National Foster Care Month

May is National Foster Care Month, an opportunity to create awareness and encourage individuals to get involved in the lives of these youth – through mentorship, employment, volunteering and other ways.

Growing up always presents a unique set of challenges, especially when making the transition to adulthood. For the more than 400,000 youths in the U.S. foster care system, the following obstacles can seem insurmountable, such as getting that first job, a driver’s license and learning money management skills without a good support network.

PRIDE Industries is proud to help young adults in, and emancipating from the foster care system develop independence and self-sufficiency skills. PRIDE’s Youth Services and Internship Programs provide support and guidance to teens, connecting them to internships and jobs in the community while helping them overcome other obstacles to employment. This success is made possible by generous donations to PRIDE Industries Foundation.

Nellie’s Story:

Nellie is a participant in PRIDE Industries Youth Services and Internship Program. With PRIDE’s help, Nellie has successfully held a job, and has made many positive changes despite the great challenges she faced. She graciously shared her story with us.

Growing up in a dysfunctional family, Nellie lacked support and positive role models. This environment led her to engage in an unhealthy lifestyle; as a young teen, she got involved with gangs and drugs. To help turn her life around, she was admitted to a group home specializing in rehabilitation in the Sacramento, CA region, at the age of 14.

Despite her efforts to maintain sobriety and get her life back on track, Nellie’s attempts failed, twice. “Even though it was a different location, it was the same story,” says Nellie. “I got involved with the wrong crowd and drugs, again. Both times, I just wasn’t ready to change.”

“I never thought I would ever finish high school, let alone make it to age 16.”

Fortunately, Nellie connected with Koinonia Home for Teens, a highly structured group home that provides clinical treatment to chemically dependent youth ages 13-18. Often, Koinonia is the last hope for teens. The group home ended up being just what she needed; at age 15, Nellie made significant strides toward a brighter future. “Having the proper structure and discipline at Koinonia helped me change habits and start living a healthier and positive life,” says Nellie.

It was at Koinonia where Nellie connected with PRIDE Industries. PRIDE’s Youth Services job developers act as mentors to teens in the recovery program. Job developers help youth bridge skills from adolescence to adulthood.

Recovery happens in phases at Koinonia. During phase two, teens are allowed to seek community employment. Nellie’s commitment to her recovery and good standing in the program, gained her a recommendation to PRIDE’s Youth Internship program, in 2016.

The internship placement proved to be successful, Nellie currently works alongside colleagues with disabilities on PRIDE’s contract manufacturing and fulfillment division, packaging items for customers such as packing tea and toys. “I’m proud of my accomplishments at my job,” says Nellie. “This has taught me patience and teamwork, and I have learned skills needed for my future.” As a result of excellent work ethic, Nellie was able to extend the duration her internship.

The transformation has also been beneficial in other parts of Nellie’s life. Once far behind in school, she is now a high school junior who enjoys studying English and is set to graduate early. Nellie also credits sports with helping her stay on a positive track. Her favorites are football, soccer, and basketball – sports where she can apply the teamwork skills learned on the job.

“Nellie has made remarkable progress, and I am proud of how far she has come,” says Kenneth Avila, a Youth Services Job Developer. “She has learned a lot about how to communicate and positively connect with others.”

Nellie is a smart and strong young woman. Once she graduates from high school, she plans on exploring different career options, including the marketing field. For now, we are proud to have her as an intern at PRIDE and look forward to seeing her future accomplishments.

A New Perspective on Life | National Foster Care Month

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“You’re only here for a short visit. Don’t hurry, don’t worry. And be sure to smell the flowers along the way.” — Walter Hagen

As a very young girl, Melissa was exposed to violence and a hostile environment. “I started doing things that I should not have been doing,” says Melissa. “I got into the drug lifestyle,” she told us, and from there it spiraled. “My environment was pretty violent with a lot of crime.”

Melissa’s life came to a screeching halt when she violated probation and was sent to Juvenile Hall. She served seven months. Shortly after her release, she found herself there again. Facing the possibility of six years in jail and an uncertain future, Melissa agreed to enter Koinonia Home for Teens. Koinonia is the last hope for many youths before long-term incarceration. The fear of losing her freedom motivated Melissa to take action.

Koinonia is a highly structured group home that provides treatment to chemically dependent youths ages 13-18. While there, Melissa was given the opportunity to grow and develop skills which could lead to self-sufficiency upon graduation. She learned how to make healthy choices, create structure in her life, and most importantly, how to maintain sobriety. PRIDE Industries works in partnership with Koinonia to help youths get on the right track.

Making positive change is never easy, but with support and guidance, Melissa’s life did, in fact, begin to transform. “When I wanted it, I was able to take advantage of all the help that Koinonia and PRIDE Industries were giving me,” says Melissa. “I really started getting it.”

Recovery happens in phases at Koinonia. During phase two, teens are allowed to seek a job. PRIDE Industries’ Youth Services program provides job search assistance, resume development, interview preparation, counseling, paid work experience, and more. PRIDE’s paid internship are made possible by generous donations to PRIDE Industries Foundation.
Melissa was drawn to mechanical engineering. She likes to see how things come together. Her passion for this area landed her a paid internship with PRIDE’s electronics department. “I really enjoyed it,” she tells us. “So much so, that I ended up working three extra months.” Through the internship, Melissa learned the importance of quality, proper communication with management, and, most importantly, accepting constructive criticism.

In her former life, criticism would result in conflict. “Coming where I came from, criticism led to confrontation,” says Melissa. She had trouble with authority, listening, and trust. Because of the skills gained through her internship with PRIDE, and the structure provided at Koinonia, Melissa is now able to take advice with grace and poise. “Be open to constructive criticism without taking offense,” Melissa recommends. “It is meant to help, not to hurt me.”

The transformation was arduous; there were many good and bad days along the way. But she did not give up. Melissa graduated the recovery program and earned a high school diploma. Today, she is living independently, has a job in the community, and is looking forward to a brighter future. “I feel pretty excited,” says Melissa. “It is a big accomplishment for me because I never thought I would make it to age 18 much less get a high school diploma.” Looking back at her accomplishments still feels a little surreal: “I was shocked. I am alive, healthy, and I have been sober for almost two years. It is pretty crazy.”

Though the voyage was difficult, Melissa explains: “I had to stop because I was going too fast in life; growing up way too quickly. I never stopped to smell the flowers. Finally, when those flowers were out of reach, I realized that I needed to stop before I never got the chance again.”

As she reflects on the past, she has a new appreciation for her journey. Though she once thought probation and the loss of freedom were horrible, she is now grateful for the intervention. When asked what helped her get through the dark days and tough times, she replies: “My freedom is something that always made me want to live.”

Nowadays, she enjoys the simple things such as sitting on the couch, painting, drawing and listening to music – something she longed for while behind bars in juvenile hall. These days, she can relax without the weight of the world on her shoulders. Melissa recalls being under so much stress she had to be reminded to breathe. “I would stress out so much, I felt like a fifty-year-old,” she tells us. “It was because of my lifestyle.” In contrast: “now, I feel my age, which is pretty amazing.”

Melissa has completely turned her life around and is focusing on the future. She has big plans. “I want to be a firefighter or a mechanical engineer,” she says. “If not, I will join the military and get into the Marines.” With a new perspective on life, these professions provide the physical activity and structure she enjoys and a way to give back to her community. “I feel that would help me give back for my past mistakes.”

We at PRIDE Industries are proud to help individuals like Melissa prepare for their future lives – and we wish her the very best!

 

May – National Foster Care Month

PRIDE Industries Foster Care Month

There are more than 58,000 children and youth in California living in foster care. Nearly one in five has a disability, with learning disabilities as the most predominant. Foster youth have higher high school dropout rates, lower graduation rates, and of those who find employment – below average wages. Only a small percentage goes on to community college; many do not make it to the second year. The obstacles to employment success for youth leaving the foster care system are enormous.

May is National Foster Care Month – a time to highlight the great work being done by PRIDE Industries’ Youth Services team in support of foster youth and others facing barriers to employment.

Employment supports can bridge a critical gap for youths as they transition from the foster care system to the working world. For these young adults, survival is a struggle enough. Few have had adult role models or mentors who have invested in preparing them for the workforce.

At-risk youth ages 17-21 enrolled in PRIDE’s Youth Services Program receive pre-employment supports including resume creation, interview prepping, tutoring and job club where peers learn about appropriate workplace behavior, dressing for success and more. Youths are also eligible for paid work experience internships, which is invaluable on a resume of a young person just getting started. Services include job search, placement support, and job coaching and follow-up services even after placement.

Community partners are critical to the program’s success. Gap® stores are a long-standing partner of the program, providing paid internship work experience and – equally important – positive role models and mentoring.

Paige is a former foster youth. She entered PRIDE’s program at the age of 17 without any previous work experience. She received coaching, job supports, and a paid internship at a local GapKids® store through PRIDE. There, she was lucky to find an enthusiastic mentor in her supervisor, Jen. Jen was equally impressed with Paige’s work ethic and positive attitude, referring to her as a “little sponge.” Her positive attitude rubbed off on customers whose children sought her out whenever they visited the mall. Jen would have gladly hired Paige on a permanent basis, but plans had already been made her return home.

Returning home often carries the risk of a setback as an individual leaves the program and their support systems. However, Paige took all of her experiences to heart and applied them to a new job at a local organic coffee and tea shop. She loves her new job, her co-workers, and her customers. She has found her place in the workplace, having built a solid foundation thanks to the Youth Services Program at PRIDE and great mentoring support.

How can you make a difference for foster and at-risk youth with disabilities?

  • Look beyond a disability to ability – create work and mentoring opportunity in your workplace
  • Support businesses that employ people with disabilities
  • Donate to PRIDE Industries Foundation’s Youth Employment Services program so we can expand our program to others (click here)
  • Spread the word – share this and any other success stories on PRIDE’s blog with your friends and family

SPOTLIGHT ON: PRIDE Industries Youth Services Program

Pictured L to R: Andy Palmer, Amanda Cozington, Bethany Okusako, Mindy Tubra, Traci Hart and Dan Apgar

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.

 

FOSTER YOUTH

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.

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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.

 

TRANSITIONING YOUTH

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.

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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.

 

AT-RISK YOUTH

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

Aging Out

 

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.

Thank you,

Catalina Figueroa

 

Believing in Tomorrow: National Foster Care Month

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May is National Foster Care Month, a time to acknowledge members of the community who help children and youths in foster care. The United States has approximately 424,000 children in the foster care system. Teenagers who age out of the system each year often face daunting challenges. Many do not graduate high school and experience homelessness, unemployment, and incarceration because they do not have the proper supports needed to help them navigate through early adulthood.

PRIDE Industries’ Youth Services Program partners with other organizations specializing in services for youth in the foster care system. PRIDE provides an employment services program that helps prepare youths for the workplace – the key to self-sufficiency. Components of the program include 90-day paid internships and one-on-one mentoring with PRIDE Job Developers. In the process, participants gain valuable experience to put on their resumes, as well as the opportunity to learn job skills and the pride of earning a paycheck. Cyndal is an intern at PRIDE Roseville currently going through the Youth Services Program. She has graciously shared her story with us.

Like many youths in the foster care system, Cyndal had a difficult past. Drugs and substance abuse were a habitual problem in her household. Due to domestic instability, she and her brother were placed in foster care while she was in middle school. Unfortunately, this seemed to make matters worse for Cyndal, who was unhappy with her assigned families and made several attempts to run away. She also dropped out of school and was in juvenile hall by the age of 13.

In order to help provide her with a fresh start, Cyndal was referred to Koinonia, a group home that provides rehabilitative services to youths in foster care. She is currently supported through social workers, counselors, and other staff members. She re-enrolled in high school courses, and has found that math and science have become her new favorite subjects. Rehabilitation participation includes a program taught by PRIDE’s Job Developers; topics include recovery from substance abuse, handling emotions, developing healthy relationships, and employment soft skills. Cyndal became a PRIDE intern in January 2014; she currently works two days a week at PRIDE’s Roseville location in manufacturing.

“I never thought that I would get a job. But they got me one!”

Once quiet and shy, Cyndal has become outgoing and friendly. Having an internship at PRIDE Industries has helped her develop practicable skills as well as self-esteem. On the production floor, she packages and inspects items for PRIDE’s customers. She is enjoying the internship, especially since she likes to put things together. However, when asked about the favorite part of her internship, Cyndal responded “having money-it’s so much fun!” The opportunity to have fun and socialize with fellow interns and co-workers is another perk that comes along with the job.

Along with her internship, PRIDE has provided Cyndal with a Job Developer, Andrew Palmer. PRIDE’s Job Developers work with youths as mentors. They assist with preparing a resume and job applications, training for interviews, applying to college, obtaining needed documentation (birth certificate, state ID, ect.), and securing interview and work clothes. Cyndal and Andrew aim to meet once a week. Recently, they went together to the DMV where Cyndal obtained her first California Identification card. Both agree that she has come very far emotionally. “I have learned how to show my emotions, respect myself and others, and that it’s ok to trust people” says Cyndal.

Outside of school and work, Cyndal has many different interests. She enjoys crocheting and assembling mechanical objects. One of her recent projects was putting together a Robosaur – a mechanical Tyrannosaurus Rex. According to Andrew, Cyndal is also very talented at creating Lego sculptures. Around PRIDE, she is known for making friends easily with her bright smile and positive attitude. With a more stable and encouraging environment, Cyndal has flourished.

At 16, Cyndal has high hopes and ambitious plans for the future. She plans on attending community college and joining the Navy. She hopes to earn her bachelor’s degree and become a fashion designer. Cyndal is moving out of the group home soon and will continue her high school career while living with a new foster family. We wish her all of the best with her future!

In the Pursuit of a Better Future

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May is National Foster Care Month, a time to raise awareness of the more than 380,000 children and youth under 18 in the foster care system in the U.S. During this time people are encouraged to get involved as adoptive parents, volunteers, mentors, and employers. PRIDE Industries has an established program specifically designed to provide foster youth with employment soft skills through the PRIDE Youth Services. One of our interns, Kate, shares her story.

Kate, 16, is an Intern at PRIDE’s headquarters in Roseville, CA. She provides clerical assistance to the Legal and Human Resources departments working 22 hours a week. “It is such a blessing; this is something I can put down as work experience and will help open doors,” says Kate. The paid internship is for 90 days with the option to renew. The experience is more than a job; it will help Kate develop employment, people, and appropriate-on-the-job skills so that once she leaves the foster care system she can get a job and make progress toward a self-sufficient adulthood. “Kate is so smart, such a diligent worker, and she has so much potential,” says Christine McKenzie, General Counsel and Kate’s supervisor. “She is doing such a stellar job!”

Despite a difficult past, Kate graduated from high school earlier than expected, which is why she is able to participate in the internship. Recently Kate’s case manager at PRIDE helped her enroll in college. Soon she will begin attending general education classes to work toward a brighter future. “I always knew people went to college, but not people like me,” says Kate. “I never thought I would graduate high school, let alone enroll in college.” Kate has not selected a major, but has always had a passion for working with children. After her experience at PRIDE she intends to help the community and have a meaningful career where she can help others.

Life has not always been easy for Kate; she got involved with drugs and alcohol at a young age. Now she is in recovery in a Koinonia Group Home, dedicated to provide the highest quality treatment foster care, adoption and family service programs available for children, youth and their families whose special needs can be met through services delivered, supervised and supported by professional agency staff. “For a long time I never thought I would live past 18,” says Kate. Who now looks forward to that milestone. Many of the adolescents, specifically young girls, who come to the group home, have experienced horrible things such as abuse, neglect, gang violence, prostitution or abusive relationships. Living through such traumatic experiences at such a young age changes one’s outlook on the world and other people, but Kate wants to help others believe. “Ultimately you have the choice to come out of that or wallow in it,” says Kate. “I don’t want to see anyone give up what could be a really beautiful, spectacular life because they don’t think they are worth anything better.”

The internship and participation in PRIDE Youth Services and the Kaleidoscope for Youth Success Program (K.E.Y.S.) has given Kate hope for a better future, and a glimpse into what could be a great adult life. She plans to share her story with fellow foster youth entering the Koinonia program. “If I plant that seed of hope maybe I won’t see it grow, but I want to let them know that they are still worth something,” says Kate. “They are all so capable of wonderful things. We have our struggles, but that only makes us more beautiful at the end. I want them to know that.”

PRIDE’s Youth Services Program currently has 26 interns who work at PRIDE and in the community. Several former interns were hired by PRIDE and at other businesses in the community. Generous donations to PRIDE Industries Foundation help fund the paid work experience internships, including emancipating foster youth.