Gem justifies journey to success
Growing up in a poor Raleigh neighborhood filled with drug and gang violence shaped Gem’s life forever. The first time she entered a courtroom, she knew it was where she wanted to be — as an attorney or judge on the other side of the room.
“Where I lived, I saw a lot of criminals and people getting arrested for drugs,” Gem said. “I want to help change the amount of drugs being put on the streets, and I also want to help make the justice system fair.”
Gem has a tough road ahead – tougher than most.
But she has help. Sarah, Gem’s transitional living specialist, is there to talk, go with her to appointments and work with her on budgeting money.
Gem finished high school. She’s working at her first job and has a stable roof over her head – she elected to stay in foster care past the age of 18, until she is enrolled in college and ready to live on her own.
Youth Villages founded its transitional living program in 1999 to help former foster youth who lack family or other support make a successful transition into independent adulthood. Program participation is voluntary. Current and former foster youth may enter the program anywhere between the ages of 17 and 22, and are assigned a transitional living specialist with whom they meet once or several times a week based on need. Together, they figure out the young adult’s life goals and work out a strategy for getting there.
Gem doesn’t have to make that difficult plunge into independent adulthood on her own. Unlike so many other former foster youth, Gem has Sarah to help her make tough decisions, to support her when the going gets tough, to push her to strive further and reach for her dreams. She has someone who will help her get her first apartment and enroll in college.
When Sarah first met Gem, she was living in a foster home but wasn’t attending high school any longer.
“I was sleeping late every day,” Gem said. “I wanted to go back to school, but I wasn’t really motivated because I had no clue where to start. And I also didn’t really think Sarah could help me.”
After taking some time to talk and get to know each other, Gem decided to give Sarah a try. They made a plan to enroll Gem in GED classes, have her take the GED test in February and apply for college by March.
As soon as Gem was enrolled in GED classes, Sarah helped her find her first job as a hostess at a fast-food restaurant.
“I wouldn’t have my job if it wasn’t for Sarah,” Gem said. “I was scared. Sarah picked me up to take me to the interview. I was going to wear jeans, but she told me to change and put on some slacks to look nice. On the way there, we practiced interview skills. Then she tricked me to get out of the car, or I wouldn’t have gotten out because I was so scared. But they hired me on the spot.”
Gem and Sarah are now working together to help Gem find balance between school and work, especially when schedules conflict.
Gem received her GED and graduated. Now, she and Sarah will work to apply for college.