Youth Villages enlists New York Fashion Week celebrities for a cause: helping former foster youth become successful adults
— Youth Villages (@youthvillages) September 14, 2015
Fred Burns (left) with Orange is the New Black star Selenis Leyva.
Growing up in Mississippi, Fred Burns and his nine siblings didn’t think much about fashion; sometimes their clothes came from the neighborhood donation clothes closet.
But this week, Burns is all about threads and runways, as he joins the thousands participating in the glitz and glamour of events surrounding New York’s Fashion Week. His goal: to introduce fashion and entertainment celebrities to Youth Villages, a nonprofit organization driven to help the 23,000 young people who, like Fred, age out of foster care at 18 without support.
Burns joins Richard Shaw, chief development officer at Youth Villages, in one of only two booths designated for nonprofit organizations at an exclusive luxury gift and styling lounge by GBK Productions and Pilot Pen. While other participants are introducing celebrities and fashion journalists to trendy new luxury products, Youth Villages hopes to attract celebrities who want to make a difference in the lives of former foster youth across the country.
Burns spent time in foster care in Mississippi. He excelled in both academics and sports, walking on the football team at SEC powerhouse Mississippi State University in his freshman year. Burns began participating in the Youth Villages YVLifeSet program as a college freshman, and his specialist supported him through his graduation from Jackson State University in computer engineering this year. Burns joined American Airlines as a software engineer this spring.
He and fellow Mississippian Tope Daramola, also a young computer engineer, just released an app called PHAZE which allows users to blend photographs with a few clicks. Part of the proceeds from the app will go to build a computer learning center for underprivileged young people at Stewpot Community Services, in Jackson, Miss. Burns and Shaw will be posting photographs to social media using the app.
“YVLifeSet helped me with what I needed,” Burns said. “It was a two-way street. I had the confidence someone had my back, and Youth Villages was there to assist me when I needed help.” YVLifeSet is the largest and one of the only programs in the country to show positive impacts on numerous aspects of life for youth aging out of foster care and entering adulthood.
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.
The program got a celebrity boost last month when best-selling author Vanessa Diffenbaugh, founder of the Camellia Network, a nonprofit crowdfunding and social support platform to help former foster children, announced the Network was joining Youth Villages. The merger allows for enhancements and expansion of the service, and Diffenbaugh joined the organization’s national board of directors.
“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 continues 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.
“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.