Volunteers needed for ‘aged out’ foster teens The Mesa Tribune | The Hometown Newspaper for the city of Mesa, AZ

Volunteers needed for ‘aged out’ foster teens

Volunteers needed for ‘aged out’ foster teens
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By Janelle Molony
Tribune Contributor

Foster Arizona, a Mesa-based foster care resource organization, is looking for community volunteers to assist young adults who are no longer being supported by a foster family.

“If we are considering kids who are over the age of seven ‘unadoptable,’ then these kids are left in foster or group homes for another 11 years with no security for their future,” said Kim Vehon, founder of Foster Arizona and program coordinator for what she simply calls “The Housing Project.”

Vehon has begun her third year as the program coordinator for the East Valley philanthropic movement, which provides supports to young adults needing help transitioning to fully independent adulthood.

The youth who apply to the program are former wards of the state through the foster care system.

Many turn 18 without the permanency or stability of an adoptive family to guide them through the transition.

Vehon estimates 800 Arizona youth who “age out” annually from foster care and are left disconnected from critical supports they had. Some who join may have become homeless after their separation from a primary caretaker.

“We don’t want to duplicate [foster care] services,” Vehon explained.

The young adults are not being parented, nor are they considered dependents to any person or organization at this point.

Participation is voluntary and designed to close learning gaps which limit their ability to support themselves.

“They’re living independently, but we are giving them a safety net to learn. In other words, they can make mistakes, but won’t fall on their face,” Vehon said.

As an adoptive parent of four children who were previously in foster care, the mission of the Housing Project is close to Vehon’s heart.

Vehon founded Foster Arizona back in 2013 as a resource for locals who are connected to foster care programs in any way, but the idea for the new program came in March of 2018.

Through corporate partnerships, Vehon secured local housing where up to four youth could stay together and gradually develop their independent living skills. The inaugural year boasted twenty-eight participants.

The program has remained near capacity with twenty current adults; three who will graduate soon, and several new ones expected to join mid-year.

Though the program is designed to be one year long, some participants only stay for a few months, while others have applied for an extension.

In addition to housing, there was a noticeable need to equip at-risk adults with a strategy for overcoming setbacks and making daily progress towards life goals.

“Keys to Success with Arizona Friends of Foster Children Foundation was a natural partner for us,” Vehon explained.

All participants in the Housing Project must agree to participate in growth mindset learning offered by the Arizona Friends of Foster Children Foundation – which includes setting realistic goals, managing expectations, and developing persistence.

The organization also offers college and career counseling as well as job-partnership opportunities to help participants gain financial independence.

Expenses the adults receive assistance with include reduced rent, essential furniture, personal hygiene items, kitchen supplies and more. Donors have contributed computers, bikes, bus passes, or beds as well.

Once a month, the young adults can attend classes such as cooking, budgeting, taxes, and first aid.

“What’s beautiful is we don’t have just one provider,” Vehon said, noting community partners donate their time and talent from a variety of backgrounds and corporations.

ASA Now (Advocacy, Support & Assistance) is one East Valley not-for-profit that recently provided cooking lessons.  A Wells Fargo representative has taught about finances.

The organization is always open to having more talented individuals join in on the movement who can teach on specialty subjects from home maintenance to resume writing.

Foster Arizona and its partners do not consider what they are doing a “hand out,” but more like the latter part of the adage, “If you give a man a fish, he eats for a day; if you teach a man to fish, he eats for life.”

To track the effectiveness of this program, Foster Arizona partnered with Northern Arizona University to measure observables such as jobs acquired, independent housing obtained, school funding awarded, and other evidence of sustainable living.

Participants of the Housing Project are regularly visited by devoted volunteers who provide emotional and practical supports as needed.

The volunteer mentors may also stand in as a long-term friend or family member who isn’t otherwise there.

“Right now, we have a big need for male volunteers,” Vehon pled.

She is looking for several community members who would be willing to visit with young males and assist with their journeys.

Volunteers are trained, screened and asked to commit to a year of service. They can contact Kim Vehon directly to sign up for the next quarter’s onboarding training held on March 21st. She can be reached at kim@fosterAZ.com or by phone at (480) 760-5008.

More information: fosterarizonahousingproject.org.

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