By Mary Kate Gulick, Associate Vice President
As of July 1, 2014, Lincoln now has a fully operational Project Everlast initiative. More than two years in the making, this new network of services will serve youth with foster care experience as they become adults. The process to create Project Everlast Lincoln has been a collaborative one, bringing together community stakeholders and diverse voices to create a system of care for young people. Here’s how it all came to be.
First there was the youth.
Like everything else Project Everlast does, the Lincoln initiative started with the youth. The Project Everlast Lincoln Youth Council has been going strong for more than three years. Council members learned to speak publicly about their experience in the foster care system. They became friends and partners in advocacy. And they provided the input required to build a community-based system of care for other youth like them.
“Without the youth council, Project Everlast would have no direction,” said Jason Feldhaus. “Project Everlast is youth driven – it’s the experiences and input of the council that tells us what kind of services and system of care we need to create.”
Then there was planning.
Beginning in 2012, community planning meetings for Project Everlast Lincoln brought together youth, nonprofit service providers, health care practitioners, faith-based organizations, educators, DHHS representatives, law enforcement and more. Together, these stakeholders spent months crafting the outline of what would become Project Everlast Lincoln.
“We also looked at what Omaha had done,” said Betty Medinger, Nebraska Children’s Vice President of Systems Integration. “We learned that there are seven components of life that need to be covered for youth aging out of care – housing, transitional services, permanency services, employment, education, health and transportation.”
The plan developed by the youth and community members addressed each of these issues. With planning complete in year one, year two was all about putting the plan into action for Lincoln’s youth with foster care experience.
Ready, set, launch.
True to the Collective Impact philosophy that Nebraska Children subscribes, implementation of Project Everlast Lincoln drew from the strengths of existing resources in the community.
“The goal was to work with organizations who already provided some of these services, build their capacity, align their activities around youth with foster care experience, and share the measurement and data of those activities,” said Jennifer Skala, Nebraska Children’s Vice President of Community Impact.
Central access navigation/Needs Based Fund – The Hub
“The Hub has been doing this type of work with youth for years – it’s what they do,” said Medinger. “We were able to contract with them to have another full-time employee to work specifically with the foster care population.” The Hub will also be collecting data for all the youth who enter the Project Everlast system, and their outcomes.
Opportunity Passport – Community Action Partnership of Lancaster and Saunders County
“Community Action Partnership was already working with Individual Development Accounts, so they were a natural fit to take on Opportunity Passport,” said Medinger. Opportunity Passport is a program that matches savings that youth put into their IDAs in order to purchase a car, college tuition, housing or other assets that are critical to independence. Project Everlast provided CAP with funding for an additional full-time employee to administer Opportunity Passport and to start their matching funds account
Project Everlast focused on capacity building and filling gaps here, providing funding for the CEDARS Bridges Program to expand their program and reduce the waiting list for local youth seeking services. “Transition services focus on supporting the youth while teaching them the basic skills required for independence,” said Medinger.
Permanency Services – Christian Heritage
With funding for a new full-time employee, Christian Heritage is taking on family finding. “Every young person needs people who care,” said Medinger. “Family finding focuses on tracking down adult connections that are meaningful to a young person, so they have a network of interpersonal support to help them as they transition to adulthood.”
Youth Voice –Project Everlast Lincoln Youth Council
“We’re adding another part-time youth advisor to build a more robust, active Project Everlast youth council,” said Medinger. “Youth voice will continue to be at the center of Project Everlast – from planning to implementation to ongoing adjustments.” The council also serves as an invaluable venue for young people to build relationships with peers and caring adults, helping them develop the necessary social capital to succeeding as adults.
The need of youth aging out of care doesn’t stop at the Lancaster county line. PALS workers serve the rural counties of the Southeast Service Area, but they are spread thin and the distance between youth and workers is expensive to overcome. So to better serve youth s in the southeast service area, Project Everlast has provided funding to Blue Valley CAP and Southeast Nebraska CAP to provide additional transitional support services in their respective coverage areas. These organizations will work with The HUB of Lincoln and CAP of Lancaster and Saunders Counties to southeastern youth with central access navigation services, access to the Needs-Based Fund, and Opportunity Passport.
Much of the funding for initial funding for the Lincoln initiative was provided by statewide sources – such as the Sherwood Foundation and the John C. Scott Foundation. As implementation neared, it became critical to secure local funding – not only to power operations, but to ensure a local commitment to Project Everlast.
“We’ve been working hard to get local matching funds,” said Medinger. Project Everlast has since secured $45,000 in local funding, which is a great start. “It’s important for the local community to show it has some skin in the game. If local funders aren’t showing their support, why should state or national funders step up?”
And local funders, like Woods Charitable Fund, the Cooper Foundation, the Lincoln Community Foundation, Women Investing in Nebraska, City/County Keno funds are among the first local funders.
“Woods Charitable Fund especially appreciates the collaborative nature of Project Everlast,” said Tom Woods. “It’s a group effort, benefiting from both the input of community experts in the field and the youth who have personally experienced the foster care system.”
“The Lincoln Community Foundation is proud to support Project Everlast Lincoln,” said Sarah Peetz, LCF’s Vice President for Community Outreach. “This program represents the type of investment that will impact our community now and in the future.”
Nebraska Children is still raising operating and sustaining funds for Project Everlast Lincoln. Find out more about how to donate now.