How Support Becomes Success
As a teenager, Williams participated in Epworth’s Chafee Foster Care Independence Program. The program, part of Epworth’s Older Youth Services (OYS) department, provides life skills education and individualized assistance to foster children ages 14-21. “Most young people acquire everyday life skills as they grow up within their families,” says Deanna Allsman, the department’s Assistant Director. “They learn practical things like cooking, cleaning, managing their finances. And they learn how to take care of themselves – how to evaluate relationships, eat properly, stay healthy. For kids aging out of foster care, many of these lessons come from the Chafee program.”
Every year, dozens of young St. Louisans exit the foster care system. The transition can be abrupt. “They reach their 21st birthday and state funding ends,” Allsman says. “They are on their own. They don’t have the benefit of family support for a gradual transition to adulthood. Thanks to our donors, we are able to help kids stay engaged in school and find employment. We help with college applications, prom expenses and senior photos, and we celebrate graduations. We also prepare youth for job interviews, assist with résumés and lease applications -- whatever they need to get ready for the transition out of foster care.”
In addition to Life Skills, Williams participated in OYS leadership opportunities like the Youth Advisory Board. The statewide Board is composed of foster youth representatives. Each year the group develops a legislative agenda to improve the lives of kids in care. They visit the state capital to advocate for their priorities with lawmakers. “We met with Governor Nixon and several legislators and advocated for a bill that gives foster kids the right to return to the system if they need to until they are 21,” Williams says. The bill passed.
Epworth also provides Youth Leadership Camp, a three-day weekend program at Camp Wyman in Eureka. Camp was Williams’ favorite activity. “I liked the zip line and the s’mores and just talking and getting to know each other -- everyone being together.” He plans to return to Camp as a counselor.
Williams graduated from high school on schedule and completed Army Basic Training in South Carolina. Allsman says OYS staﬀ enjoyed the letters he sent while he was away. When he returned to St. Louis, he moved back in with his last foster family and joined the Army Reserves. He proudly serves one weekend a month and two weeks in summer.
About a year after he returned to St. Louis, his foster father passed away suddenly, and Williams found himself without a place to stay. He turned to Epworth for assistance. OYS staff found him a place in a youth shelter while he applied for an apartment in Epworth’s Independent Living Program (ILP) and participated in our Project Xcel Pre-Employment classes. Through an Xcel partnership, he trained as a security guard at Ballpark Village. Now employed full-time by Securitas, Williams is saving money, gradually taking over 100% of his living expenses, and preparing to exit ILP when he turns 22. For his next move, he has his sights set on attending the police academy. “I want to be a police officer because I like helping people. I’m good at calming everyone down in a tense situation,” Williams says.
“Ke’Ron is a goal-oriented young man,” Allsman says, “and he really does care about people. He often talks through his decisions with our staff and really listens to what we have to say.”
Recently, Williams made a big decision. He completed financial education classes through Epworth and saved $1,000 in an Individual Development Account, with United Way matching his savings 2:1. He needed a car, not only for daily transportation, but also for traveling to his monthly Reserves drill training. Allsman was concerned. “Our kids often get taken advantage of when they make a big purchase like a car. They get talked into high interest loans and sold cars that are in poor condition.”
Fortunately, Williams had the opportunity to participate in a new Epworth partnership with Frank Leta Acura. The Leta Charitable Foundation provides additional funds to match youths’ savings, and the dealership sets youth up with a used car in good condition and a service plan. Williams was the first youth to benefit from this new program. In February, he purchased a 2008 Honda Civic in excellent condition. “I don’t think he’s stopped smiling since we picked up his car,” Allsman says.