The Youth Villages office in Cookeville, Tennessee, recently received a visit from Congressman Diane Black.
Rep. Black represents Tennessee’s 6th congressional district in the United States House of Representatives. In Congress, Rep. Black has been an advocate of child welfare issues and has recently co-sponsored legislation such as the Recovering Missing Children Act, the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act of 2016 and the Family First Prevention Services Act of 2016.
During her visit in Cookeville, Rep. Black was welcomed by Christiana, a participant in the YV Scholars program who had shadowed her earlier this year during Congressional Foster Youth Shadow Day in Washington, D.C.Christiana presented Rep. Black with a framed letter of thanks for sponsoring the Family First Prevention Services Act, which passed the House in June.
Rep. Black also heard from Youth Villages employees and members of the organization’s leadership team in Cookeville, as well as from a family receiving Intercept in-home services and Sandra, a young lady receiving help from the YVLifeSet program.
Amanda Rivera, federal policy manager at Youth Villages, said she was excited to share the organization’s ideas for strengthening services helping young people throughout the country.
“The MDRC study gave us some information about what works in terms of supporting young adults aging out of the foster care and juvenile justice systems, so we want to begin using some of this to inform federal policy,” Rivera said.
Candace Albritton is a deeply spiritual person with a big singing voice steeped in traditional gospel. As a residential counselor at the Youth Villages Deer Valley Campus in Linden, Tennessee, she makes singing part of her everyday work with the boys in her program, fusing fun and therapy.
Candace moved to Tennessee in October 2014 from her home state of Florida specifically to work with young people at Deer Valley and to pursue her licensure as a mental health counselor, which staff can pursue at Youth Villages for free while working their regular jobs.
However, she says adjusting to her new surroundings took time. From the start, she immersed herself in working with the boys, building trusting relationships with them, helping them change their perspectives on their lives and doing anything she can to help them succeed. Most of the boys Candace works with are between the ages of 13 and 17. Many of them have histories of trauma along with emotional and behavioral issues. Candace naturally enjoys connecting older children with community resources for when they leave the campus and helps others get ready to join Job Corps or other programs once they leave home.
When she finds it hard to connect to a youth, she employs her “work buddy” Tucker the Turtle, a snuggly stuffed-toy version of a turtle, to help her get boys out of their shells and open up about their feelings. Candace has a host of “work buddies” to help her relate to the boys and build trust. More than anything, Candace enjoys being a safe person to the boys who helps build them up and gives them the security they need to talk about those things they may have never shared with anyone before.
Candace also mentors a youth who has left Deer Valley but continues to write and call Candace for her nurturing support.
A talented singer who grew up singing in her dad’s church, Candace truly found a new home in Tennessee when she auditioned and was selected for the renowned Tennessee Mass Choir. The choir has sung with Al Green and recently shared a stage with Foreigner, among others. Candace spends three Saturdays a month in Memphis for rehearsals and goes on the road with the choir for concerts.
Candace shares her passion for music with the boys she works with, breaking into song or rap whenever they have the chance.
“We’ll sing anything,” Candace says. “From ‘Mary had a little lamb’ to rap songs. The kids all love Eminem, so we sing some of his songs.”
Candace, who listens to gospel and Jill Scott at home, had to seek out Eminem songs to become familiar with the singer and his repertoire.
“I’d go home and look up his songs, and I discovered they’re good and I like them,” she says. “He’s good at story telling and talks about overcoming struggles, so that’s something our boys relate to.”
Through songs, the boys also relate to Candace and one another.
“We sing every day we’re together,” she says. “Before or after group, during free time – any time.”
Most of the boys on campus name music as a favorite coping skill. When they’re upset or sad, they turn to music to help calm their emotions, lighten their mood or reflect on their feelings.
Candace says her goal is to help all the Deer Valley youth she works with to become “a bright ray of sunshine or color and a unique someone” by the time they leave campus.
For many of the boys, Candace is the ray of light that helps them find hope and allows them to shine again.
Tennessee native Brittney Jordan has a heart for helping children and families. Ever since she was four years old, she has wanted a job like her father’s.
“My dad has been a social worker for as long as I can remember,” Brittney said. “I’ve been in and around his work for a long time, which made me passionate about entering the field.”
Brittney pursued a bachelor’s degree in social work from Harding University and her MSW from the University of Memphis.
“Growing up in Memphis, I heard a lot about Youth Villages,” Brittney said.
“When I graduated with my master’s degree, I knew it would be a good fit for me.”
In 2014, Brittney became a family intervention specialist with Youth Villages’ Anaya Partnership, where Youth Villages collaborates with community agencies to provide services to families in need.
She remembers one family who was struggling due to the grandmother’s deteriorating health and age. Youth Villages partnered with a local organization to provide the family with long-term stability.
“Witnessing families work hard and succeed is a truly rewarding experience,” Brittney said. “My time as a family intervention specialist has meant a lot to me.”
Last summer, Brittney stepped into the role of clinical supervisor. She provides clinical and administrative support to fellow counselors.
“I’m thankful to be a member of the Youth Villages family,” Brittney said. “I hope to help our family intervention specialists have as positive of an experience as I did.”
Youth Villages’ inaugural KiteTales: Stories that Soar event at the Mint Museum Uptown raised more than $50,000 to help youth aging out of foster care in Charlotte, North Carolina.
The evening featured stories from musician and New York Times best-selling author Jimmy Wayne and Tristin, a participant in YVLifeSet, a Youth Villages program helping youth aging out of foster care find long-term success. Nan Gray, regional marketing director for Sprint, and Ramona Holloway, co-host of the Matt & Ramona Show, were also on hand to help emcee the event.
“Even though others [my family] might not see me as a great person, there are a thousand other people that approve of you. Youth Villages taught me that I can be a great person,” Tristin said.
At the close of the evening, Youth Villages North Carolina presented Jimmy Wayne the inaugural KiteTales Award to recognize him for his work with foster children throughout the country and particularly in his home state of North Carolina.
Youth Villages is grateful for the generous support of Coca-Cola Consolidated and Piedmont Natural Gas as lead sponsors of the event.
“Coca-Cola Consolidated is proud to support Youth Villages as they aim to help every youth aging out of foster care in Charlotte,” said Dave Katz, senior vice president, Coca-Cola Consolidated.
“Youth Villages and YVLifeSet are providing one of the country’s best approaches to helping former foster care kids. Piedmont Natural Gas is honored to support their efforts and the KiteTales event,” said Timothy Greenhouse, managing director of community relations at Piedmont Natural Gas.
Learn more about Youth Villages’ work in North Carolina at youthvillages.org/nc.
Mint Museum Uptown at Levine Center for the Arts
Norman Sound & Productions
Something Classic Catering & Daisy Catering
Neglected as she moved from one relative’s home to the next, Kristin, 12, entered state custody when she was only 2 years old. She was also exposed to domestic violence, sexual abuse and drug addiction.
Kristin spent a year in Youth Villages’ intensive residential treatment to address challenging behaviors. Meanwhile, John and Melissa Miller were training to become foster parents.
“The timing was meant to be,” Melissa said. “We didn’t know what to expect as new foster parents, but Kristin captured our hearts. By the end of our first weekend together, we couldn’t imagine life without her.”
With consistent and attentive parenting, Kristin’s defiance disappeared. John and Melissa signed an intent to adopt as quickly as possible. Eight days later, the adoption was finalized.
“Being Kristin’s mother feels like I am fulfilling my calling,” Melissa said. “John and I find pure joy in providing the love and support she has always deserved.”
Melissa and John enrolled Kristin in horseback riding lessons. Kristin wants to become a veterinarian, and they regularly volunteer at the local animal hospital. Kristin’s grades have never been better, and she looks forward to attending private school in the fall.
“This happy ending reflects the amazing teamwork of Youth Villages and the Department of Children’s Services,” said Joli LaRoche, Youth Villages adoption specialist. “Thanks to everyone’s efforts, Kristin found her forever family.”
Groups joining together to end youth homelessness
A Way Home America, a new national initiative to build a movement to prevent and end homelessness among young people, launching this month.
Youth Villages’ YVLifeSet program is one of the country’s largest helping former foster youth – a group that is statistically more likely to experience homelessness and housing insecurity.
“Youth Villages is pleased to be part of the effort to end youth homelessness,” said Amanda Rivera, manager of federal policy for Youth Villages. “We know that effective help for young people makes a difference.”
The launch of A Way Home America corresponds with the White House Policy Briefing on Ending Youth Homelessness co-hosted by the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness and the True Colors Fund. More than 50 different organizations addressing youth homelessness are involved in A Way Home America, including the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, which leads the coordinated federal response to homelessness, and its member agencies.
Results from an MDRC randomized controlled trial of the YVLifeSet program released last year showed that participants experienced a 22 percent decrease in the likelihood of experiencing homelessness.
“The program’s effect on homelessness is a huge deal, particularly because it’s not a housing program,” said Mark Courtney, Ph.D., recently at a Capitol Hill forum focusing on effective programs for transition-age youth. A professor in the School of Social Services Administration at the University of Chicago, Courtney was the principal investigator in the MDRC study and in the Midwest Study, one of the largest research projects involving former foster youth.
Although program participants did see increased earnings and economic wellbeing, Courtney said the housing outcomes “most likely came from helping the young people do whatever they needed to do, whatever it took to avoid homelessness.”
A Way Home America’s efforts build on “Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness.”
Partnerships, new approaches highlight forum on scaling effective practices to help former foster youth
Every year about 26,000 young people in the United States turn 18 and age out of foster care without ever being united with their biological families or finding a new one through adoption. They are one of the country’s most vulnerable populations, more likely to be homeless, never reach education milestones, to face unemployment and incarceration.
Last week, the American Youth Policy Forum hosted a Capitol Hill briefing highlighting the need to expand effective programs capable of helping transition-age youth overcome challenges and go on to be successful, independent adults. The forum was co-sponsored by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and the Senate Caucus on Foster Youth.
Moderated by David Sanders, Ph.D, executive vice president of systems improvement for Casey Family Programs, the briefing examined the Youth Villages YVLifeSet program and ways to improve federal and state systems to better meet the needs of transition-age youth.
“This is about a system that fails to provide the kind of services and support that young people need to be able to become contributing adults,” Sanders said. “Twenty-eight percent of all children in out-of-home care are teenagers. Nearly half have been in care for two years or longer and don’t have a case plan goal that supports permanency. How do we support permanency so youth are not leaving care without families? Right now the pipeline is not very encouraging.”
On the panel were Mark Courtney, Ph.D, professor in social services administration at the University of Chicago; Mike Leach, director of independent living for Tennessee’s Department of Children’s Services; Jeff Rainey, senior executive for strategic advancement at the YMCA of Greater Seattle; and Justice Rutherford, a 20-year-old YVLifeSet participant from Memphis, Tennessee.
Youth Villages CEO Patrick Lawler described the development of the program. By 2015, YVLifeSet had helped more than 8,000 former foster and disconnected youth in seven states and had shown significant impact in the country’s largest randomized controlled study. The organization began to study how to scale the program to reach every young person who ages out of care each year.
“It seemed like too big a hill for us to climb ourselves,” Lawler said. “And the numbers fluctuate. We know that there are young people who are 19, 20, 21 and 22 who still need help now. Read more…