Over the past nine months, collaborations among Mission West Virginia, TEAM for WV Children, and The Appalachian Reading Center have worked to support foster youth in the Kanawha Valley. While these partnerships all vary in the character of their operations, they each work to ensure that youth within the foster care system achieve their full potential.
West Virginia has more than 4,000 children in foster care and more than 1 in 5 of those youth will become homeless as they “age out” of the system when they turn 18 years old. Only 58% of children within foster care will graduate high school, fewer than 3% earn a college degree, and by age 24, only half are employed. To address these issues, Mission WV’s “The Bridge” and TEAM for WV Children’s “Fostering Futures” received funding support from The Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation in October of 2015. Their programs, designed to mentor students in the foster care system, work directly with schools, families, and group home facilities. The Bridge works to provide K-12 foster youth with academic support and post-secondary planning. Fostering Futures, developed by the National Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Association, serves high school students in areas such as independent living planning and career exploration. The Bridge and Fostering Futures each serve their own students and work is individualized to meet participants’ needs. This customized approach allows their collaboration to flourish through resource-sharing and co-presenting. Enrichment opportunities that benefit both sets of students are also combined, such as college campus visits and group workshops. To date, the programs collectively serve more than 40 students with intensive academic and life skills support.
In December 2015, the Appalachian Reading Center built upon this collaboration by partnering with Mission WV to provide reading support services to foster youth in Clay County, WV. The targeted students have experienced a loss in learning due to frequent placement and school changes or they have learning needs that require extra attention. In rural locations, these needs may go unmet because of the isolation and lack of resources the community experiences. The Appalachian Reading Center tutoring initiative is aimed at training 6-7 tutors in the Clay County area to deliver reading instruction to at least 14 high-need, reading deficient students that are in foster or kinship care. The Appalachian Reading Center trains and supervises these tutors and The Bridge of Mission WV refers the students, supports the families, and also supervises the tutors.
Amanda Davis, Program Director of The Bridge, shares the story of Eric*: “A year ago, Eric was living out of state, homeless, and truant with no guidance or assistance from any caring adult. Because he lacked a permanent address, Eric was unenrolled from his school and lacking a full year of credits. He was not expected to graduate from high school, much less go to college. Now, thanks to a supportive school atmosphere and The Bridge’s services, Eric is not only on track to graduate, he is making high grades in all classes, including a couple of college-level courses. Eric always knew that he was smart and driven, but now he has the confidence to challenge himself even more. He hopes to go to West Virginia University (WVU) and pursue an engineering degree. The Bridge was able to advocate for Eric and tell his incredible story to admissions counselors and scholarship committees. With this support, his college dreams are coming true: he has been accepted to WVU and has earned scholarship funding that will allow him to pursue his ambitions.”
These partnerships have been a source of hope for students like Eric who are within foster care in the Greater Kanawha Valley region. Funding from The Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation supports staffing, travel, scholarships, tutor stipends, and materials.