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By Rose Hoban

Five hundred kids aging out of the foster care system in the coming two years will be on the receiving end of some help to make the transition to adulthood, courtesy of local drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline and the Triangle Community Foundation.

GSK will be granting $1 million to help about 500 foster kids get training, internships and jobs through a handful of Triangle-based not-for-profits.

The idea behind the grant is to help foster kids, who often don’t have mentors or role models in their lives, get matched up with people working at all levels of the food industry.

“We said, ‘Can we put together collaboratives where we have young people working side by side with adults to learn about the different aspects of what it takes to feed a society,’” said Bert Fisher, president and CEO of Community Partnerships, one of the organizations leading the initiative.

Fisher said one of the goals is to expose kids to different employment opportunities that they otherwise would have no exposure to, awareness of or connection to.

There are about 1,400 young people in the foster care system in Wake, Durham and Orange counties, where the grant is targeted. Most of the kids are staring down living as a self-sufficient adult at the age of 18, without many supports. Many are no longer in school, but still need to learn skills that can be applied in the workplace.

Pender County DSS worker Ursula Williams talks to foster kids Rayshawn, 17, and Tavis, 17, about appropriate attire for job interviews during a “real world” event for foster kids in 2014. Many foster kids don’t have guidance on how to enter the adult world. Photo credit: Hyun Namkoong

“Can we create some experiential learning opportunities?” Fisher said. “[They’re] learning a new skill set that can then translate into employment opportunities.”

The ultimate goal is to get the kids into a position where they can choose healthier lifestyles, said Marcella Middleton, a former foster child who sits on the board of the Hope Center at Pullen, which is helping administer the grant.

She said kids in the foster care system are so absorbed with getting by that they have no time or space to think about their futures. Matching young people up with a mentor plays a part in “helping them meet their basic needs.”

“Then if I have a job and if I have the money, I can go and purchase the food I need to stay healthy, get that membership to the Y,” Middleton said.

Fisher said collaborating with other groups will give them an opportunity to brainstorm ways to serve foster kids in creative ways. The groups involved in the grant are:

  • SAYSO, Strong Able Youth Speaking Out, an organization that teaches foster youth to advocate for themselves;
  • Dress for Success, which helps young people acquire job skills and appropriate work attire;
  • LIFE Skills Foundation, which has an independent-living program that provides support to young people transitioning out of foster care; and
  • the Interfaith Food Shuttle, which not only provides meals but also job training in the food-service industry.

Fisher said the money allows the consortium of groups to try some innovative ways of helping foster kids be successful. He said not-for-profits don’t often see grants this size outside of federal dollars.

“In the not-for-profit world, the margins are so thin you’re focused on the day to day.” he said. “There’s not enough margin in the dollars to cover your real expenses, much less to go outside, be creative.”

“This is an opportunity to go outside the box.”

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