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Camellia Network partners with Youth Villages to enhance and expand network serving former foster children

August 19, 2015

LifeSetNetwork

Camellia Network, a nonprofit crowdfunding and social support platform to help former foster children, has merged with national nonprofit Youth Villages to enhance and expand the service, Camellia Network founder and best-selling author Vanessa Diffenbaugh announced today.

“This is exciting news for all of us who support former foster children through the Camellia Network,” Diffenbaugh said. “As a partner with Youth Villages’ renowned YVLifeSet program, the Network will be able to help many more young people who need our support. This partnership marries the Network’s technology and innovation with the national leader in social innovation and ‘doing what works’ for kids in foster care. We couldn’t be more thrilled.”

Renamed the LifeSet Network, www.LifeSetNetwork.org, to reflect the new partnership, the website will continue to allow participants to help young people transitioning out of foster care attain their goals by crowdfunding needs registries the young people have designated essential to achieving a particular goal. For instance, supporters can buy a laptop for a young person who is entering college or a set of sheets and towels for a young person who is moving into her first apartment.

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Diffenbaugh started Camellia Network four years ago with the proceeds from her best-selling book “The Language of Flowers,” and it has since given more than 300 former foster youth the chance to connect with more than 1,600 supporters who provide resources and helping relationships. The author’s second novel, “We Never Asked for Wings,” about motherhood and the challenges faced by immigrant families, was released Tuesday.

“We are immensely proud of what the Network has accomplished so far,” said Diffenbaugh, also a member of Youth Villages’ national board of directors. “But with 23,000 children aging out of the foster care system every year, we needed to find a way to scale bigger faster. Youth Villages is the perfect partner for that. Our supporters are excited about the opportunity to help more young adults and to have the advanced features the new website offers.”

Youth Villages’ YVLifeSet program has helped more than 8,000 young people make a successful transition to adulthood since it began in 1999. The program’s focus on this most vulnerable population of youth is an intense one, with YVLifeSet specialists on call 24/7 for young people participating in the program. Specialists help the young people navigate all aspects of new adulthood, including budgeting, finding stable housing, completing education, finding and keeping employment and developing healthy relationships.

In addition to supporting emerging adults participating in Youth Villages’ own programs, the new LifeSet Network will continue to seek strategic partnerships with various other programs serving former foster youth. A pilot phase with participants in Youth Villages’ YVLifeSet program will lead to further enhancements in the Network as it is scaled to serve more young people. The Network’s goal is to provide an easy way for supporters to connect with young people in the YVLifeSet program and similar programs and fulfill their needs lists.

LifeSetNetwork.org’s updated responsive design will offer such new features as the ability to complete a young person’s registry with one click and enhanced search functions to help users more quickly find a young person they’re able to help.

“The LifeSet Network lets folks who want to support these young people who are close to achieving an important life goal easily help them with some concrete needs – the same way a parent would,” said Youth Villages CEO Patrick Lawler. “This platform helps showcase the incredible potential of these young adults and democratizes funding so virtually anyone can help.”

This merger follows Youth Villages’ recent completion of a rigorous, randomized trial of its YVLifeSet program, showing positive one-year results. The study, designed by The University of Chicago and conducted by the non-partisan social science research nonprofit organization MDRC, followed more than 1,300 young adults who had aged out of foster care or juvenile justice placements in Tennessee. The researchers found that, one year after program completion, the young people who participated in Youth Villages’ YVLifeSet services had achieved increased earnings and greater economic well-being, experienced better mental health, had greater housing stability and were less likely to be involved in a violent relationship than young people from the same backgrounds who received other services available in the community. For more information about the study, visit www.MDRC.org.

Stephanie prepares for college with help of YVLifeSet program

August 7, 2015
Stephanie is the first in her family to attend college. She plans to pursue social work as a career.

Stephanie is the first in her family to attend college. She plans to pursue social work as a career.

Stephanie, 19, enjoys going shopping with her friends. She buys the same sorts of things they do. The only difference is she pays for it with her own money.

“I guess maybe I appreciate it more,” she said.

Stephanie has worked since she was 15, and recently graduated fourth in her class while maintaining a job. She entered foster care about three years ago and her foster parents were granted guardianship. Her guardian heard about Youth Villages’ YVLifeSet program at church. Chris Scarbrough-Key is her YVLifeSet Specialist.

I was a little reluctant about it at first because I thought it was just going to add more to my plate,” Stephanie said. “I wasn’t excited about it. But then, when we began discussing college and I began to trust Chris.”

The two prepared Stephanie for college, including working on study skills, time management and budgeting. They role-played for more than a month before interviewing to become a YV Scholar, where youth in YVLifeSet receive additional support for college provided they maintain academic and community service requirements.

“Stephanie has come so far from when we began 18 months ago,” Chris said. “She has strong goals, and we had to work on her communicating her ambitions and not getting too stressed about things.”

When she was younger, Stephanie remembers asking her parents if they’d paid the bills. She cooked dinner and took care of the house. At the time, her parents abused drugs.

“I guess I had two ways I could’ve gone and I went the way that made me stronger,” Stephanie said.

Chris toured colleges with Stephanie and helped with financial aid forms. Stephanie wasn’t sure she’d be able to afford college, even mentioning at one point it was “too good to be true.”

“There was so much I didn’t know about, and Chris helped me figure it out,” Stephanie said. “She helps me with pretty much everything.”

She plans to pursue social work, and recently reunited with her mother, who lives with family out-of-state. Stephanie is the first in her family to attend college.

“I trust Chris,” Stephanie said. “I sometimes wait to the last minute to take care of things and get stressed, but Chris is like calm waters. She comes in and helps me get things done.”

YVLifeSet program helps Coty manage transition to adult life while caring for his mom

August 3, 2015
Coty's learned to be more proactive in maintaining his responsibilities. His plan is to earn an associate’s degree and then make a decision to further his education or begin a career.

Coty has learned to be more proactive in maintaining his responsibilities. His plan is to earn an associate’s degree and then make a decision to further his education or begin a career.

Coty was finishing his senior year of high school when his mother fell gravely ill. Two years before, his mother suffered a stroke, and he had to get by on his own before being placed in state custody.

At 18, Coty was back on his own, getting by with a part-time job, making good grades and nearing graduation when he was forced to deal with serious issues and questions regarding his mother.

“I guess I didn’t have time to process it because I was so busy,” Coty said. “There was a lot going on.”

Coty was referred to YVLifeSet through his Tennessee Department of Children’s Services case worker. Chris Scarbrough-Key is his YVLifeSet Specialist.

“Coty can get overwhelmed at times,” Chris said. “He had some big decisions to make with his mother in addition to maintaining his school and work life.”

Chris helped Coty understand how to speak with the doctors to get good information. She also followed through with insurance forms to help ensure Coty was protected from any of his mother’s health care costs. She pitched in with other Youth Villages staff and youth services staff to make sure Coty had a proper suit and could attend his high school prom. Teachers at his school supported him and kept him on track. When his air conditioning broke at his home, Chris worked with him to make sure the landlord got it fixed.

“He never missed a session with me,” Chris said. “Despite everything that was going on, he did very well.”

His car will soon be paid in full. Chris still helps Coty with time management as he prepares to enter community college this fall. Coty’s learned how to shop for groceries and use simple recipes to cook his own food. He is a supervisor at a local restaurant.

“He still has quite a bit to take care of for an 18-year-old,” Chris said.

Coty uses coping skills to control his anger, which stems from having so many big changes thrown at him at once. His older sister is also a big support for him. He’s learned to be more proactive in maintaining his responsibilities. His plan is to earn an associate’s degree and then make a decision to further his education or begin a career.

“I’m a tired kid most of the time,” Coty said. “Chris is certainly extra help for me and kind of like a mother figure. She gives me another somebody to go to. She fills in the gaps.”

YVLifeSet youth consult with US Department of Labor

July 22, 2015

mynextmoveA group of Youth Villages’ YVLifeSet participants recently volunteered their time with the United States Department of Labor to help provide feedback on the department’s newly developed web-based career tool for foster youth and those aging out.

Youth Villages was one of six organizations that participated in a U.S. Department of Labor listening group, a type of focus group, during which youth were introduced to the department’s web-based career tool and asked to provide suggestions about how the tools can be tailored to help address the unique needs and challenges of foster youth.

The web-based tools are designed to help current and former foster youth begin thinking about a first job as well as identify career interests and potential career options, along with providing career counseling, developing career plans and connecting youth to educational or vocational programs as well as jobs.

“It is especially challenging for foster youth and former foster youth to establish a solid career because they often lack consistent adult support, along with crucial financial resources,” said Mary Lee, national coordinator of the Youth Villages YVLifeSet program.

In addition to Youth Villages, organizations participating in the listening sessions included: D.C. Child and Family Services Agency, FEGS, Juvenile Law Center, The Urban Alliance and Youth Leadership Advisory Team.

“We had 17 youth participate,” Lee said. “They enjoyed seeing the tool, learning about it and helping shape it so it can make a difference for the thousands of young people just like them who are in or aging out of care every year.”

To access the Department of Labor’s new career website for foster youth, visit http://www.mynextmove.org/.

Gov. Bill Haslam joins Youth Villages in announcing results of rigorous study on how effectively to help Tennessee’s former foster youth

July 7, 2015

Gov. Bill Haslam recently joined former foster youth and national experts at Youth Villages Memphis Operations Center to announce and discuss the positive results of a landmark five-year study of the Youth Villages YVLifeSet program in Tennessee.

“It’s incredibly encouraging for us in the state of Tennessee to see an organization like Youth Villages really dig in and do the research and say ‘we’re not just going to announce another program that we think might make a difference; we’re going to do the research and measure the difference the program makes,’” the governor said. “Government at its very best has data, and it has heart.”

The study, conducted by MDRC and Dr. Mark Courtney of the University of Chicago, is the largest random assignment evaluation of a program serving this population and one of the first to show multiple positive benefits for youth. More than 1,300 young people in Tennessee participated in the study and received services from either YVLifeSet or other programs available in their communities. Researchers studied both groups to determine the impact of the Youth Villages program.

“Across every range of services that we looked at — housing, employment, education, health — participants in YVLifeSet received a lot more help than the young people who were not in the program,” Dr. Courtney said. He has conducted many studies of programs to help young people in this population and is the principal investigator on the “Midwest Study,” which followed young people in three Midwest states over many years and spurred the push to expand foster care services to age 21.

Young people in the YVLifeSet group showed an increase in earnings, a decrease in homelessness, a decrease in economic hardship, better mental health and a dramatic reduction in living in violent relationships, Dr. Courtney said.

“There were positive outcomes across all subgroups,” he concluded. “It didn’t matter whether they lived in a rural or urban area, whether they had been in just the child welfare system or just the juvenile justice system or both.”

He said the state of Tennessee and Youth Villages deserve credit for “the courage involved in the investment in this program over a long period of time and investing in a clinical trial.”

The YVLifeSet program has helped more than 7,000 young people who aged out of foster care or juvenile justice in Tennessee since 1999. In 2013, Gov. Haslam expanded the program so it could be offered to 100 percent of the young people who age out of custody in Tennessee. The expansion was financed through an innovative public-private partnership between the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services and Youth Villages donors. It made Tennessee the first state to offer comprehensive intensive help to every young person who ages out of care.

Youth Villages CEO Patrick Lawler praised the Governor for his support. “You know, good governors provide strong leadership across their state,” Lawler said. “But truly great governors influence governors all across America. And that’s our governor – a pacesetter.”

Youth Villages already provides YVLifeSet in six other states and is hoping to bring the program to more of the 23,000 young people who age out of foster care across the country without ever being reunited with their own families or finding a new one through adoption.

“This is a program that can be used in a variety of ways around the country,” Dr. Courtney said. “There are a lot of states trying to do the right thing and trying to support young people transitioning out of foster care, but they’re struggling with how to do that well. This program has impacts across a lot of outcomes, it has worked all over the state of Tennessee, and there’s reason to believe that it will work in a lot of different contexts.”

Gov. Haslam said states have almost a sacred obligation to these most vulnerable young people.

“The least we can do is make certain that these kids who have been given into our care get the help they need,” he said. “We’re both proud that we’re the only state to do this and a little regretful that others haven’t come along with us.”

‘Cornhole for a Cause’ an overwhelming success in Massachusetts

June 26, 2015

CornholeforaCause2015

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Approximately 130 guests joined us May 31, 2015, at Aeronaut Brewing Co. in Somerville, Massachusetts, for Youth Villages’ Cornhole for a Cause event.

Thirty-three teams competed in this year’s tournament, which generated more than $4,000 to help provide youth in our programs access to positive extracurricular activities that they would otherwise be unable to afford. Thanks to all those who played and those who supported this year’s Cornhole Tournament.

Congratulations to our winners!

  • 1st Place: Team “Bentley Bros” consisting of Curtis Freedman and Brian Cusick
  • 2nd Place: Team “Cornhole on Fleek #blessed” made up of Justin Nihon and Cait Ryan
  • 3rd Place: Lelani and Rich Foster, known as team “Kernel Fosters”

If you were unable to attend, it is not too late to support our efforts.

Donate

For questions or more information, please contact Kimberly Santos, special events manager, by email or call her at 781-937-7905.

Clinton Global Initiative America commitment improves the lives of Tennessee’s former foster youth

June 24, 2015

Every former foster youth who turned 18 in Tennessee was offered intensive help to transition successfully to independent adulthood in 2014 as part of a Youth Villages commitment to the Clinton Global Initiative America.

Former President Bill Clinton and Youth Villages CEO Patrick Lawler

Former President Bill Clinton and Youth Villages CEO Patrick Lawler

The Clinton Foundation initiative, which convenes leaders to create and implement innovative solutions to America’s economic recovery, includes a 2013 four-year commitment by Youth Villages to make effective, comprehensive transition services available to every young adult aging out of foster care and juvenile justice placements in Tennessee. Youth Villages is able to pursue the initiative through a partnership with the State of Tennessee’s Department of Children’s Services.

Youth Villages announced the results from the first year of its commitment on the heels of the 2015 CGI America in early June, which brought together more than 1,000 nonprofit, business and government leaders to share their commitments and updates on those commitments. The 1,356 youth helped by Youth Villages’ YVLifeSet program across Tennessee from July 2013 through June 2014 were doing well at that point in the program, with 75 percent of the participants in school or graduated, 70 percent employed or seeking employment, 91 percent living with family or independently and 91 percent reporting no trouble with the law.

“Through this commitment, Tennessee became the first state to offer comprehensive transition services to every single young person aging out of state care,” said Youth Villages CEO Patrick Lawler. “We helped more than a thousand young people last year. This commitment demonstrates that there’s a highly effective model for this vulnerable population, and it’s a scalable program that is a practical, cost-effective solution to a national problem.”

In a unique public-private partnership between Tennessee’s DCS and Youth Villages, the organization began offering comprehensive transition services to every young person aging out of Tennessee state care in 2013 through the organization’s YVLifeSet program, formerly called transitional living services. Participation in the program is voluntary and about half of youth aging out of Tennessee’s foster and juvenile justice systems chose to participate.

Their success is in contrast to outcomes reported by studies conducted by Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago and others on former foster youth that found young people at significantly higher risks of experiencing homelessness, incarceration, unaddressed mental health issues and unemployment in comparison to young adults who have not spent time in foster care or juvenile justice placements.

Youth Villages recently completed a rigorous, randomized trial of its YVLifeSet program, showing positive one-year results. The study, designed by The University of Chicago and conducted by the non-partisan social science research nonprofit organization MDRC, followed more than 1,300 young adults who had aged out of foster care or juvenile justice placements in Tennessee. The researchers found that, one year after program completion, the young people who participated in Youth Villages’ YVLifeSet services had achieved increased earnings and greater economic well-being, experienced better mental health conditions, had greater housing stability and were less likely to be involved in a violent relationship than young people from the same backgrounds who received other services available in the community. For more information about the study, visit www.MDRC.org.

The general lack of support and effective services for former foster youth translate into significant social services costs incurred by the adult over a lifetime, estimated at an average $300,000 per person, according to Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative. With approximately 23,000 youth aging out each year, costs add up to almost $7 billion for each year’s group.

In the Youth Villages-Tennessee partnership, YVLifeSet services are funded in part by the state and in part by Youth Villages’ fundraising efforts. The commitment is a significant expansion of Youth Villages’ YVLifeSet program and is costing $30 million during the four years. More than half of that was committed by private funders, including funds from a legacy challenge grant from Memphis philanthropist Clarence Day and The Day Foundation. The program, begun through Day Foundation funding in 1999 and expanded through the support of Tennessee’s DCS, has helped more than 7,500 young people so far.

“Former foster youth typically lack that crucial support young adults need to make a successful transition into independent adulthood,” Lawler said. “Providing the help these young adults need is not only the right thing to do, it’s also cost-effective. YVLifeSet benefits all of us.”

YVLifeSet matches young adults ages 17-22 with trained specialists who help young people identify their goals and guide them in taking the needed steps to begin achieving those goals. Program participants meet with their specialist on a weekly basis and can reach them by phone 24/7 for support. YVLifeSet specialists typically help young adults complete their education and go on to higher education, find and maintain housing, learn to budget, access health and mental health care, form healthy relationships and reconnect with family when possible. The program is tailored to each youth’s individual goals and typically takes around seven to nine months to complete.

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