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Imagine you are a 17-year-old senior in high school. You’ve been in foster care as long as you can remember because your parents abused you or were unable to care for you. The state has provided your food, clothing and shelter, and you attended school. But your life has required constant transitions: You have lived in a series of foster homes and/or residential care facilities throughout your childhood. No adults have stayed in your life long enough to act as true mentors who could teach you important values like empathy, gratitude or independence. The constant change has suppressed your academic success, not to mention your social and emotional development. You have been sustained, but not nurtured. 

Foster care ends for you in a few short months because services end when children turn 18 or graduate from high school — whichever comes first. You will be expected to take care of yourself, including finding a job and providing your own food and shelter. Finding a job may be a challenge, and if you do find one, you are likely to struggle to stay employed. According to the Anne Casey Foundation, only half of foster children will be employed at age 24, and one in five foster children will become homeless after age 18. Reaching the end of foster care assistance can feel like being pushed off a cliff.  

If you go to college, your state support will continue, but when pitted against students from stable homes, you are at a distinct disadvantage. Indeed, the Anne Casey Foundation reports that fewer than 3 percent of foster children will earn college degrees. The foster care system has provided your basic needs, but it most likely has not prepared you for college.  

This is where “Foster Works,” a budding new charitable organization, comes in. University Park’s own Kimberly Martinez saw the need to better prepare children graduating from the foster care system, so she created and serves on the board of Foster Works. The mission of Foster Works is to teach life-sustaining skills to foster care youth through vocational employment. Teens can begin working part-time after school at the age of 14, so Foster Works will pair foster children in 9th through 12th grades with small business owners who are interested in mentoring at-risk youth.  

Thanks to Foster Works, these teens will gain skills and work experience to build their resumes, references to vouch for their abilities and work ethic, and networks of adult mentors for ongoing support. In addition, Foster Works will teach teens how to responsibly save and spend their new income. Learning these practical life lessons while still receiving foster care assistance will prepare these at-risk teens in advance for the inevitable day when foster care support will end.  

So, when you imagine yourself as a 17-year-old foster child, don’t you think you would want Foster Works in your life?  

To learn more or become involved with Foster Works, email Kimberly Martinez at kimberlymartinez.2011@gmail.com.