Erik’s Story: How He Went from Uncertainty to a Natural Leader, Thanks to His Talents and Connected Youth Initiative

Teamwork: An Introduction to CYI and LEAP 

We’re glad to share Erik’s story of success. Thanks to his persistence and participation in one of Nebraska Children and Families Foundation’s Connected Youth Initiative (CYI) strategies, Learn and Earn to Achieve Potential (LEAP), his efforts have paid off. He’s going to share his story that he related to Kris Hook, his coach. But first, a bit of background on how CYI and LEAP work.   

Talented Erik participated in LEAP. He's now a community leader!
Talented Erik participated in LEAP. He’s now a community leader!

CYI is Nebraska Children’s older youth initiative. The initiative supports young people between the ages of 14 and 26 who may have experienced the foster care and/or juvenile justice systems, human trafficking, or homelessnessCYI’s LEAP strategy is a part of the coaching component and offers Education and Training Vouchers (ETV) as part of its Postsecondary Education and Career Pathways focus.  

Like much of what Nebraska Children does, CYI’s LEAP strategy and ETV alignment are a group effort. The vouchers assist Central Plains Center for Services postsecondary education and trainings through a collaboration between Nebraska Children and John H. Chafee Foster Care Independence Program funds provided by the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.    

The vouchers assist students in paying for college-related expenses such as books, tuition, and other fees they may incur. The vouchers complement LEAP, which also delivers added support and coaching in the form of in-person meetings, cohort learning, phone calls, and emails. Throughout these meetings, the coach and student strategize to find their main areas of concern and opportunity.  

Due to this helpful alignment with CYI’s LEAP strategy, there’s a broad range of subject matter that ETV recipients and coaches can explore during their meetings. Topics may include housing, scheduling, time-management, and relationships.  

Throughout these exchanges, the young person can receive guidance from their coach, which are implied by their title. The coach advises and encourages the young person to build on their strengths to plan and accomplish further success, ultimately building promotive factors to thrive. Coaches will also link the student to relevant on-campus resources as well.  

From a Difficult Past to a Dedicated Leader: Erik Shares His Story of Success 

Erik has endured a difficult time in college. It bears mentioning that he’s very smart, talented, and open to receiving support and advice. Like most of us, Erik had some family and friends who may have distracted him from his primary objectives, including school.  

He’s attended classes intermittently for three years, but throughout that time, he’s had some difficulties committing to college. He’d have this conversation often with his LEAP coach, as they forged their relationship.  

At the beginning of the pandemic, Erik wasn’t registered or taking college courses. Ironically, during that chaotic time, he became determined to make a change. It dawned on him that he wanted more. He wanted more than a job that would allow him to pay for his day-to-day needs; he wanted health insurance and other amenities that come with long-term employment.  

With that decision, Erik decided to commit to his education and to his many talents, as his coaches consistently reminded him that he had.  

Soon thereafter, Erik returned to college for the Fall 2020 semester. He took a full course load and was determined that in December, he would earn his associate’s degree. It turns out, he did just that and more; he now plans to transfer to a university to earn his bachelor’s degree.  

Throughout Erik and Kris’s many correspondences, Erik began to express interest in leadership opportunities, too.

Once again, Erik was motivated for success and achieved it, as he has pursued several different leadership positions. He even helped lead an orientation for incoming LEAP college students at Southeast Community College.  

Throughout this discussion, Erik continued to shine as a role model by reassuring his peers’ anxieties, addressing their questions, and relating his own story. From there, Erik was selected as one of three college students for a research study conducted by the MDRC, a nonprofit, nonpartisan education and social policy research organization. The study focused on LEAP’s impact on its young participants.  

Finally, with his coach’s encouragement, Erik is applying to be on the Bridge to Independence (B2i) Advisory Committee. That way, he can continue to exercise his leadership skills, voice, and insights for stakeholders who can improve and create our state’s foster care program.  

His coach described Erik as someone who, upon first meeting him, displays tremendous potential. He’s charismatic and incites positivity, even when he makes a first impression. Since Erik is still a young adult, albeit a talented one, the LEAP staff consistently remind him of his many strengths.  

The following is directly from Erik in his own words: 

“ETV [LEAP] is a program that helps students’ success in life. Kristin (with ETV) and Felipe (with LEAP) have been some of the best people to work with throughout my college career so far. They have helped me with funds that have taken the everyday stresses of college off my back, so that I can truly focus on academics and do what is necessary to become successful. They have shown me endless ways to capitalize on the multitude of opportunities given to me, and for that I could not be more grateful. Succeeding in life is more than academics and they have created the leadership opportunities to complement my academics. They have helped shape me into the leader I am today. I enjoy leading others who have ha[d] a similar path as mine. I know there are so many people [who] work in the background of this program and I commend them for the endless amount of help they give to students.

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Nebraska Children's mission is to maximize the potential of Nebraska’s children, youth, and families through collaboration and community-centered impact.

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