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Season for Sharing: Foster Success supporting teens and young adults in foster care system - IndyStar

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For most young people, "adulting" often feels like a daunting task. For young people transitioning out of the foster system without a reliable support system, it can be downright impossible.

That's why Aly Leonard is so grateful for Foster Success, the organization that helped her, finally, build a reliable safety net.

Leonard, now 21, was in and out of foster care starting at age 5. Most of her high school years were spent there. She graduated in three years, but spent each of those at a different high school, in different parts of the state. When she graduated, she didn't have close relationships with any teachers or coaches. She didn’t have any mentors.

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She didn’t have that network that other kids have — until she connected with Foster Success in early 2019. They connected her with professionals and gave her opportunities to build new skills, like when she helped plan the group’s annual conference and organized breakout sessions. 

“It was really helpful to have adult support that I didn’t have before,” she said.

Since 2008, Foster Success has been working to reach teens and young adults that have experienced the foster care system before they age out and lose access to support and resources. 

What was born to serve older foster youth in the Central Indiana area has since expanded to serve young people transitioning out of the system across the state, of which there are approximately 24,000. The goal of the nonprofit is to ensure that all of those young people are educated, housed, financially stable, employed and connected to a reliable support system by their 26th birthday.

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A junior now at Indiana University in Bloomington, Leonard is working toward checking all those boxes. She has two jobs while she works her way toward a history degree, with plans to go to law school. To make it all work, she lives in affordable housing off campus. She wouldn't be able to do that, she said, if it weren't for the grant from Foster Success that allowed her to buy a reliable car. 

'They were always there to catch me'

The Opportunity Passport program provides financial literacy and matching grants up to $3,500 to help foster youth pay for assets like cars, housing and other investments.

"You don’t really have the opportunity, a foster youth, to gain a whole lot of capital," she said. "So it's hard to gain assets. It's really hard to escape the cycle of poverty."

Even more than the car, though, Leonard said that getting connected to Foster Success allowed her to build the kind of relationships she wasn't able to when she was moving between foster care and residential settings. 

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"It's really cool because it’s almost like they were just watching me build this myself," she said, "but they were always there to catch me when I fell, which was needed a few times when I wasn’t so sure what I was doing."

Like most at-risk populations, teens and young adults in the foster care system were more severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

For Foster Success, it illuminated the need for greater healthcare support among the young people it serves. In November, the organization announced it would launch a new initiative to ensure teens and young adults transitioning out of foster care maintain access to health insurance, receive COVID education and support, connect with health care providers, document their health histories and secure vital records.

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“The Health and Well-Being program area is focused on empowering teens and young adults who have experienced foster care with the knowledge and skills needed to navigate health care systems and become advocates for their own health,” said Foster Success CEO and President Maggie Stevens. “This is a population that can’t stay on their parents’ health insurance after turning 18 like their peers can and these young adults are often too busy meeting basic needs to focus on preventive health care.

"We hope to make the path to physical, mental, and emotional health a little easier with the additional support provided by this new resource.”

What is your organization’s mission?  

Foster Success is dedicated to ensuring that teens and young adults, ages 14 to 26, transitioning out of Indiana's foster care system are educated, housed, financially stable, employed and connected to a reliable support system by their 26th birthday. We believe that every young person transitioning out of the foster care system should feel empowered, supported and heard.

How many people do you serve?  

There are currently 24,000 teens and young adults between the ages of 14 and 26 in Indiana's foster care system. Foster Success offers and provides support to those young people. 

Last year, Foster Success impacted the lives of more than 700 teens and young adults through its programs and resources.

What is your No. 1 need?  

Our biggest need is for the community to learn more about our FriendsGiving campaign and the needs of our young people. FriendsGiving is our holiday season fundraising and awareness campaign. It seeks to raise $30,000 to provide 25 financial matches up to $3,500 for our young adults to purchase their first car, apartment, or house.

People may learn of our young people's needs by visiting https://p2p.onecause.com/fsfriendsgiving.

Checks can also be mailed to Foster Success C/O Development Office at 546 E. 17th St., Suite 206, Indianapolis, IN 46202.

How can people get involved?  

Foster Success' FriendsGiving campaign will continue through December 31, 2021. This allows for the community to invest and support our teens and young adults by providing access to laptops, basic needs and new home or car kits. Those interested in volunteering can visit our website at fostersuccess.org and go to "GET INVOLVED."

IndyStar Season for Sharing  

The shared mission of IndyStar’s Our Children initiative and annual Season for Sharing campaign is to harness the power of journalism to make a difference in the lives of Central Indiana youth. We invite you to join us by making a financial contribution. The Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust will generously match donations up to $25,000. All charitable donations are tax-deductible.   

This year, grants will be awarded to organizations that have gone above and beyond in serving Central Indiana children and families amid the COVID-19 pandemic.   

Go to indystar.com/ocdonate to give online. If you prefer to send a check, please mail to: Central Indiana Community Foundation, Attn: Our Children, 615 N. Alabama St., Suite 300, Indianapolis, IN 46204. You also can donate by texting “SHARING” to 80888

Call IndyStar education reporter Arika Herron at 317-201-5620 or email her at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter: @ArikaHerron.