Innovation: Changing the Odds

It’s hard to move forward when you feel like the odds are stacked against you. This is a feeling teenagers aging out of the foster care system know all too well.

They face growing up — finding housing, education and jobs — without the family support others their age can rely on. There are social services available, but taking advantage of them requires days spent traveling from center to center, missing work and spending their wages on bus fares.

But in the Triangle, those social services have come together to create a hub of sorts. The Fostering Youth Opportunities collaborative will soon have a physical space thanks to a $25,000 grant through the What Matters Innovation Award.

“This collaborative creates a sense of family for these young people who have never experienced that before,” said Rachel Aiken, Nonprofit Service Associate for the Triangle Community Foundation. “By having these agencies all in one place, it feels like they have someone in their corner fighting for them.”

Wake Technical Community College, Durham’s Life Skills Foundation, Orange County’s Partnership to End Homeless and the Hope Center at Pullen in Raleigh are all partner agencies in this collaborative effort.

Rashidah Myrie, Executive Director of the Hope Center at Pullen, works to establish a support network for the young people who come to the Center. She gets to help them see beyond their circumstance to who they are capable of becoming as they receive the tools and support they need to succeed.

“The resilience that I’ve seen with this population is just amazing,” she said. “They can have so many things happen to them, and yet they still find a way to rise above that and become productive members of society. Providing a safe space free from judgment is always a top priority.”

“The journey to independence is different for each person who comes in. Some teens are initially open to help while others are more understandably reluctant,” Myrie said. “They often are not willing to be as open with people just because of some of the things they’ve experienced, and so not being judgmental and meeting them where they are is key.”

Fostering Youth Opportunities applied for the Foundation’s Innovation Award in late 2015. The $25,000 grant rewards collaboration and experimental approaches to solve problems, and build stronger nonprofits in the Triangle region.

Fostering Youth Opportunities pitched the idea of a one-stop-shop in which young people can meet with representatives from each agency to discuss needs and develop solutions. This approach not only increases efficiency for the individual being served, but also the agencies who are able to streamline and share resources.

Aiken said of the common mission, “This network of agencies is effective because no matter the issue, the focus always comes back to what is best for the young person.”

The collaborative’s dedication to the community stood out during the pitch, said Pat Nathan, Board Vice-Chair for Triangle Community Foundation.

“We need more of this in our community,” Nathan said. “The work they’re doing together to get these young people the resources they need under one roof versus going from one agency to another is really impressive.”

The organizations are building an all-in-one resource center as they provide guidance for the young adults in foster care. Already, they’ve told Myrie, that having a group to rely on has eased the process of growing up.

“If something is not working, they can come back to the central location and get help,” Myrie said. “It gives them of the close-knit feel of a family, and that is something we are really proud of.”

The application process for the Foundation’s 2017 Innovation Award has closed, stay tuned for an announcement of our finalists in December, and be at What Matters on April 26th to see this year’s winner accept their award!