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Keith’s working for college, independent living

October 28, 2011

Keith was the first in his family to graduate high school. He’s making the most of his opportunities by going to college and maintaining a job.

“I’m working on my dream,” Keith said. “But life threw some challenges my way.”

When Keith’s mother wasn’t able to take care of him and his father lost his job, Keith didn’t have a place to go and became homeless. He ended up spending five years in foster care.

“I give credit to DCF (Massachusetts Department of Children and Families),” he said. “My dad was a single parent and fathered me to the best of his ability. But eventually DCF came in to provide me with the additional support I needed. It felt like I had someone there in foster care.”

Now 20, Keith is starting to overcome life’s challenges through transitional living, a program designed to support his transition to independence. Youth Villages began offering TL in Massachusetts in 2009 to help youth aging out of foster care get a good start on adulthood in the crucial years between ages 17 and 22.

Keith was 19 when he met his TL specialist. Together they created concrete goals to work toward, which included graduating from high school, learning how to budget and obtaining a driver’s license.

“Many youth in Keith’s situation are never shown how to live independently,” said Paul Nelson, TL specialist in Youth Villages’ Woburn office. “Things like getting insurance, an apartment, menu planning and continuing education are things many of these youth aren’t told about.”

School was always a struggle for Keith, but he was determined to be the first in his family to graduate high school, and he was. Two weeks after graduation, he enrolled full-time at Northern Essex Community College while simultaneously holding a job. But it was too much. He quickly became overwhelmed and was subsequently placed on academic probation, putting him at risk of losing his foster care placement and becoming homeless again.

“I had to enroll in college right away because of the system,” he said. “I guess I needed to get an idea of what it was about, but it was too soon. I was burned out from high school.”

“In addition to independent living skills, we also sometimes have to counsel young adults through intimidating, confusing or difficult situations,” Paul said. “We don’t do the work for them, but we’re there to offer guidance through self-discovery, answer questions and be a vital source of support and encouragement, especially when things get rough.”

Keith is a hard worker and employment has always been a priority. When the retail store he worked at closed, his former boss recruited him for a job at a different store within the same company, and he has maintained employment during his time in the TL program.

Being in the TL program has helped Keith immensely, he said. Keith’s learned about time management, self-regulation of feelings, and techniques that help him stay focused on his goals. After his initial setback at college, Keith’s now excited about returning.

“Things were really hard the year after I graduated high school. I just wasn’t ready for college,” Keith says. “But things are a lot different now. I now know how to handle my responsibilities and I’m ready to achieve my dream of graduating college and getting a really good job.”

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