Pictured L to R: Andy Palmer, Amanda Cozington, Bethany Okusako, Mindy Tubra, Traci Hart and Dan Apgar
PRIDE Industries Youth Services Program helps teens and young adults overcome obstacles to employment – paving the way to a better future. PRIDE Youth Services is led by Mindy Tubra, and team members include: Amanda Cozington, Andy Palmer, Bethany Okusako, Dan Apgar, and Traci Hart. I wanted to learn more about the program, so I spent some time shadowing several Counselors/Job Developers.
I’ve written about foster youth interning at PRIDE headquarters, so I am familiar with this portion of the program. I thought that shadowing individuals in the staff team would give me a better understanding of the entire program and insight into the challenges of the individuals enrolled. What I learned was that the oft-used phrase, “it takes a village…” is especially true when it concerns at-risk youth and those leaving the foster care system.
The following is a recap of my time spent with the team.
I attended a class at a Koinonia Group Home, taught by Andrew “Andy” Palmer, a PRIDE Youth Counselor/Job Developer. Koinonia group homes are highly structured, professional inpatient substance abuse treatment facilities for adolescents. Each individual is in recovery and their special needs are met through services provided by professional agency staff. Community agencies such as PRIDE’s Youth Services Program provide additional resources and services. PRIDE services are provided by the KEYS (Kaleidoscope for Employment of Youth Success) program, which provides employment services to emancipating foster youth with diagnosed disabilities.
Classes taught by PRIDE Industries Youth Services counselors are part of the teen’s recovery process. They are intended to help them build a foundation for a better future. Classes cover topics including: Money Smart, Relationship Building, Setting Boundaries, Drug and Chemical Education, and Vocational Readiness, which all focus on recovery.
Andy Palmer teaching teens at a Koinonia Group Home
I attended a class on Healthy Relationships – a subject most parents discuss with their children. These youths have not had that experience. For this class, young men and women attend separately. The students are foster youth participating at Koinonia’s substance abuse treatment clinic in Placer County; their ages range from 13 to 18 years-old.
The topic of Meaningful Relationships began with a check-in; each student shared an update, or something exciting that happened since their last visit. Andy then assigned a journal activity – to write about a powerful relationship and why it is meaningful. After five minutes of writing, the discussion began.
One by one, the students revealed an important relationship: parents, grandparents, siblings, best friends, friends in treatment and more.
Through the discussion, they analyzed the relationships – their meaning, and how they influenced their choices. Feeling loved, not judged, providing a sense of commonality, dependability, and consistency made these relationships important to the teens.
Unfortunately, these were often the relationships that introduced the students to drugs, alcohol, or unhealthy life choices in the first place – feeding a cycle of abuse and addiction. Listening to their discussion felt therapeutic – as if breakthroughs were being experienced.
Breaking the cycle is often extremely difficult; out-of-home placements in a foster/group home can provide a fresh start and an opportunity to make a break from hopelessness and addiction. Koinonia Group Homes and their partner agencies provide vital rehabilitative services and resources to youths in foster care.
I met with Amanda Cozington, a PRIDE Youth Counselor/Job Developer, and her client Emerald, 19, at The Taylor House – a transitional house for former foster youth and at-risk/homeless girls. The Taylor House is located in Roseville, CA. The home is a safe and comfortable place for transitioning girls; with the assistance of community resources, they can create a healthy foundation for adulthood.
Emerald’s story began when her parents’ home was foreclosed upon in 2013. For several months, she and her family experienced homelessness. For months, they lived in motel rooms uncertain about what would come next. Eventually, the family separated and moved to different states. Emerald was left to fend for herself without her family, a support system, or home. Luckily, she was referred to PRIDE Industries Youth Services.
With the assistance of her counselor, Emerald now has a resume, a cover letter, important vital documents needed for employment, and health insurance. Most importantly, she has a safe place to call home. She landed a part-time job at the mall which seemed promising until her hours were cut.
Pictured L to R: Emerald and Amanda Cozington
Fortunately, Emerald is a resilient and resourceful young woman. She is determined to make something of herself. She began volunteering at a local organization called Compassion Planet. Compassion Planet is a non-profit providing support to at-risk teens and aged-out foster youth in Placer and Sacramento Counties. Through their business ventures, they provide jobs and life-skills to youth in the region. As a volunteer, Emerald gained employment skills and possibly a new job with the organization which she hopes to begin soon.
Despite her difficult past, Emerald is doing her best to move forward. “Live life and move on,” says Emerald. “The past is the past and it doesn’t have to follow you into the future.” She is thankful for her family and the past she overcame, understanding that those experiences shaped her into the person she is today. For now, she is focusing on continuing to gain work experience that will lead her to a career path. Emerald plans to attend college once she has a better idea of what she wants to study.
Late on a Friday afternoon, I met with Dan Apgar, a PRIDE Youth Counselor/Job Developer and his client “Paul” (he asked us not to use his real name). Dan supports Paul through WIA (Workforce Investment Act), a Golden Sierra Job Training Agency grant. Through WIA PRIDE Youth Counselors/Job Developers, provide employment preparation and education services to at-risk youth in Placer County.
Paul, 19, came to PRIDE Industries after many failed attempts to find work on his own. Paul lives with schizophrenia – often unseen and misunderstood mental illness. With medication, it is kept under control, but his speech is also a bit slurred and monotone – something he is trying to improve to make a better first impression.
After months of applying for jobs without success, Paul decided to contact a professional. For the past seven months, he has been working with Dan to create a resume, a cover letter, gain interview and job seeking skills. In March, he landed an internship at a local store!
While interning at the store, Paul has gained valuable customer service skills, and learned how to be diligent and proactive employee. He has also improved his speech and confidence.
Dan and Paul meet on a weekly basis to review challenges and to practice interviewing skills. As a next step, Paul hopes to get a job at an athletic shoes store so he can share his passion for shoes with customers and co-workers. His aspirations go beyond shoes; Paul’s dream job is to be an Audio Engineer. He wants to help artist’s record the next bit hit.
View a Los Angeles Times video on – “Aging Out: Voices from those in the foster care system“
IT TAKES A VILLAGE
In setting out to learn more about PRIDE’s Youth Services Program, I learned about the “village” – the many community programs serving the needs of foster youth, transitioning youth, and at-risk youth. Youth Services works with multiple group homes in Placer County and other agencies including the Children’s Receiving Home of Sacramento, and Mercy Ministries. These community partners work together to help youth overcome often troubled paths and create a better one for the future.
We’re proud to be a part of this network, serving more than 300 foster and at-risk youth annually with support, training and paid internships for qualifying individuals provided in part through PRIDE Industries Foundation.
To learn more about PRIDE’s programs, click here.