ABUNDANT HEALTH VIGNETTE
Transitioning foster youth — those who are aging out of foster care programs — face challenges when it comes to finding and keeping meaningful employment. With a limited support system, little work experience and possible educational delays, these young people often face unemployment and homelessness.
In 2014, members of North Scottsdale United Methodist Church in Arizona decided to address their challenges and created Trinity Opportunity Alliance (TOA). Grounded in social justice, economic opportunity and service, TOA provides business connections that create employment opportunities for foster youth in the area
"TOA's mission is to recruit, train and support businesses that offer young adults opportunities to transition from foster care to meaningful employment," said the Rev. Nancy Cushman, senior pastor at North Scottsdale UMC and TOA co-founder and board chair. "By providing these young adults with a pathway for sustainable income, they can move to a thriving adulthood."
A unique component of the program is the Employer Coach Curriculum. "Increasing employers' knowledge of adolescent development and youth who have been in the foster care system improves their ability to work with young people," said Janice Grandy, TOA co-founder and program director. "This results in a positive work experience for the young person and a productive employee for the employer."
Two offshoot ministries of TOA are car donations and launch packages. North Scottsdale Church members donate used cars to young adults to assure they have reliable transportation. The congregation's Christmas Eve offerings fund launch packages – money is given to the young people to purchase clothes and shoes needed for job interviews.
To date, TOA, business partners and agencies that serve transitioning foster youth have worked with about 100 young people. Their impact is changing lives.
"I just started going to Glendale Community College this semester," said one young participant. "I want to be a veterinarian and plan on attending the University of Arizona in Tucson. I just turned 18 and needed to get a job as soon as possible. I interviewed at Fry's and got hired as a cashier at the store close to GCC. My job coach took me shopping to get the clothes I needed to start working. I got three white shirts, three slacks and a pair of shoes for work. I really appreciate the clothes."
Says another, "My career goal is to become an attorney and I am completing my GED this October. I will be 18 years old next spring. I was able to purchase interview clothing and work clothes with the grants received from AFFCF [a TOA partner agency]. First, my employment coach and I went shopping for interview clothing. I selected a dress and a skirt, top, matching blazer and two pairs of shoes. The next week, I wore the new dress and pumps for my informational interview with a prosecutor at the attorney general's office. I went to her office in downtown Phoenix, met with other attorneys and then went with her to court to watch the cases she was covering that day. The attorney said I seemed so mature for my age. I still keep in touch with the attorney."
While TOA's roots are with North Scottsdale UMC, program members are taking steps to become an independent 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. "Thanks in part to generous grants including $355,000 from Los Arcos United Methodist Building Corporation," Cushman said, "TOA hopes to expand its outreach by engaging additional employers, faith congregations and youth-serving agencies."
Cindy Solomon is a marketing consultant and content writer living in Franklin, Tennessee.