This May, as we recognize Foster Care Awareness Month, we bring you Sarah’s story. As an organization that envisions all children, youth, and families thriving, we love to share stories like these.
A young mother whose resiliency enabled her to push through life challenges as well as the pandemic, Sarah has been a state ward for, in her words, “as long as she can remember.”
She spent time in juvenile detention, group homes, and several foster homes. When she was 16, she considered dropping out of school. Then, an unexpected event happened that turned everything around: Sarah found out she was pregnant.
For just about anyone, the transition from adolescence to adult and parenthood can pose a major challenge. For young people between the ages of 14-26, who have experienced foster care, juvenile justice and/or probation, human trafficking, or homelessness, these difficulties may be amplified. That is why Connected Youth Initiative (CYI) offers supports and services for these young people.
What began as a pilot project in Omaha is now a statewide initiative. Now, many of the community collaboratives provide support for youth with foster care experience. CYI’s evidence-based strategies for youth and young adults include several partnered efforts throughout each community.
These strategies include Central Navigation, which provides a “one-stop-shop approach,” so young people can skip the overwhelming process of finding and reaching out to different resources.
Instead, participants like Sarah can simply contact an experienced Central Navigator, while only having to share her story once. The Central Navigator then puts the young person in touch with the appropriate professionals and services.
Coaching is one of the strategies that provides goal-oriented, strength-based support for youth to develop skills. Young people also may participate in Youth Leadership, which ensures they can use their voice for advocacy and community leadership. Sarah participated in coaching and Opportunity Passport™, a Jim Casey initiative, at Central Plains Center for Services.
CYI contracts Central Plains Center for Services to offer their statewide coaching, also known as their PALS (Preparation, Transition, & Independent Living Services) program. Coaches are experts in various programs, including Opportunity Passport™, which Sarah participated in to good effect.
The Opportunity Passport™ program offers young people the option to use several different savings matches and financial education to support lifelong well-being and economic empowerment.
For example, if a participant wishes to pay for much-needed dental expenses and saves $2,000 of her own money, the program provides $6,000 as a 3:1 savings match for the procedure.
The program also offers 2:1 matches for expenses including vehicles, housing, medical/dental bills, education, debt reduction, and investments. Finally, participants may be eligible for a 1:1 match to cover basic needs-related purchases.
One of the biggest perks of Opportunity Passport™ is that participants receive referrals and active coaching. These services may include helping enrollees open personal bank accounts and establishing or re-establishing personal credit.
Although she’d previously considered dropping out of school, newly pregnant Sarah said this news changed everything, and she decided to commit herself to her education and building a wonderful life for her daughter.
Sarah moved into a new foster home that supported her, and challenged her to better herself. Through this, Sarah learned to lean on the support of her foster mom and her team, rather than run when situations became difficult.
Sarah’s foster mother and her PALS Coach, Jessi Atha, continued to challenge Sarah to become the best version of herself. Soon thereafter, Sarah got a job at Wendy’s and worked hard to save money to care for her daughter.
Jessi said, “It has been a privilege to watch Sarah not only overcome, but embrace every challenge thrown at her and show her daughter what can be accomplished when you remain steadfast and focused on your goals.”
On October 7, 2019, Sarah gave birth to her daughter, RoseMarie Dawn. Despite her hectic schedule, Sarah completed two Opportunity Passport™ classes, all the while saving up for a car!
Sarah took six weeks off from school to adjust to motherhood, but was eager to return. But despite her excitement, she was unprepared for what followed. Two weeks after returning to school, Sarah was hit by a car and suffered a compound fracture to her leg. She was out of school and her job for two months. But as she’s proven, as no stranger to challenges, Sarah rose to the occasion.
Shortly after she healed, the pandemic struck and with it more difficulties. School was closed, and her work hours were cut due to the pandemic. Her final Opportunity Passport™ class was cancelled, so Sarah had to postpone her vehicle purchase.
For a moment, everything seemed bleak. But Sarah refused to give up. Once again, she rose to the occasion and found employment working as a caregiver in a nursing home. The whole time, she continued to save her money, with her vision of a car still on the horizon.
By the time the OP class was rescheduled, she had saved over $4,000 and was able to use the match program to buy her first car!
Sarah had obtained a solid understanding of her finances, and then some. By this time, she not only purchased a car; she found a house that fell within her budget!
At the beginning of the summer, during the height of a global pandemic, Sarah and her daughter moved out of their foster home and into a house of their own.
Jessi said that she’s cherished every moment of working with Sarah. “Her resiliency, positive attitude, and commitment to herself and her daughter are an inspiration, and I cannot wait to see what else she accomplishes.”
Four months later, Sarah returned to school full time, is working as a caregiver, taking a CNA class to increase her wages, managing her household, and more importantly, being a wonderful mother to her one-year-old daughter.
This Foster Care Awareness Month, Nebraska Children appreciates your continuing to tune in to stories like Sarah’s, which proves that young people are capable of doing some incredible things. We ask that you keep young people like Sarah in your mind and hearts throughout this month, and every month.