The original vision was to be a Community Voice and catalyst to leverage existing resources to better prepare and equip foster care youth to be ready for life – the responsibility was and is that of the community not just the Child Welfare system.
More than 20 years ago, when City of Life was founded foster youth were turned out of the system at age 18 when hormones are raging with no positive adult role model; no car; no place to stay; no structure - just at the time a foster youth needed structure the most, it was removed.
The story that stated the effort. Four young women from Boys and Girls Town were graduating from high school one year – all were born in jail – most of women on drugs – all spent most all of their life in group homes. These young women made their final presentation to the board before they graduated; and they were spectacular – the dean of Valencia’s East Campus (15 minutes away) encouraged the four to visit him over the summer and he would help them prepare for college – none showed!
Youth who chose to go to college received some financial assistance from the state, but not much support from the community – no statistics were kept or were not available; the best guess is that results were not that good. No structure - no supervision.
We started at the time the state of Florida was getting out of managing child welfare outsourcing it to community agencies which were funded with a fixed annual budget expecting the agency to find additional funding from the community they served.
The incentive was on prevention and getting youth out of the system through adoption, relative care, or back with a parent. Over the years, adoptions increased and fewer youth resided in group homes.
Our Part of the Solution:
City of Life recruited grass roots volunteer who met once a month for one and a half hours to identify problems as seen through the eyes of the community and then find solutions that could be implemented with existing resources in the community. Each month the group grew in number; each month the group would inch closer to solutions that helped kids – the first project was the idea of a special “Independent Living” team of case managers to focus on needed life skills when a child turned 18 - the program is still in existence.
Another example had to do with ID’s and a road to getting youth a driver’s license. We partnered with I-Dignity – another problem solved or at least improved with an existing Central Florida resource.
This volunteer group went on to become the “Community Action Team”. Once a problem was resolved, meaning a solution was found and then executed, the team went on to the next thing.