Stillwater News Press

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July 17, 2013

Program established to aid children in transition

STILLWATER, Okla. — A new program hopes to extend support to youth who are transitioning into adulthood.

Payne County Youth Services and the Oklahoma Lion’s Boy’s Ranch have teamed up to create the Transitional/Independent Living Program.

PCYS Executive Director Janet Fultz said the partnership makes sense.

“We already had a working relationship and see some similar clientele,” she said. “We both have young people that go through our other programs that fit into the criteria of needs for the transitional living program.”

Both groups have seen the need for such a program for quite some time, she said.

According to a PCYS press release, approximately 300 youth age out of foster care in Oklahoma each year. Many of the youth have barriers that prevent them from independent living, having a job and having shelter. Because of licensing standards, any youth who turns 18 must leave the shelter.

“There have been times when we’ve had a young person there (at our shelter) and we’ve actually had to drive them down to the homeless shelter because they have no plan, no family or no permanent connections to assist them,” Fultz said.

The Transitional/Independent Living Program would be the next step.

“It is our goal to provide a variety of services that include housing, case management, employment assistance, educational assistance, mental health and substance abuse services, mentoring and other components to assist youth in becoming independent, contributing members of the community,” said Bryan Larison, executive director of the Oklahoma Lion’s Boy’s Ranch.

The program would serve between four and 12 youth at one time, with structure tailored toward each individual. There are requirements each youth must meet to continue in the program.

“A young person enrolled in our program is required to spend at least 30 hours a week in what we call productive activities,” Fultz said. “That might include school, vocational technology, working, volunteer activities. A young person in the housing component, dependent on their income, will pay up to 30 percent of their income toward rent. The housing assistance program is time limited and the target is between 18 and 24 months. That 30 percent that they pay toward their rent, we actually maintain that amount of money that is given to them if they successfully complete the program.”

Fultz said it is an incentive to help youth stick with the program. While not every youth will need portions of the program including housing assistance, the premise is to assist those who experienced many challenges and/or trauma to learn necessary skills they may have not been afforded.

“One of the things that we know about some of our young people that will be eligible for the program, is that they have not had very many long-term successes,” Fultz said. “While we do expect them to succeed in the program, we know there are going to be bumps in the road.”

She said it’s critical to allow for mistakes, but use them as a learning opportunity, to keep them in the program and teach youth to move past them.

Two young men have already been interviewed and are expected to begin the program this week, Fultz said. However, help is needed not only from state and federal funding, but from local entities.

“It is time for us to challenge the community to assist us to make this program a reality,” Fultz said. “We are pursuing various grants to assist with this programming.”

One such grant, in the amount of $30,000, was given by the Sarkeys Foundation. Fultz called the program a grassroots effort.

Much of the effort began in January 2012 when the Payne County Transitions Task Force was established.

“We specifically invited members of the community that we thought had an interest in youth, who had an interest in business in the community, but who would also be able to see the connection between young people being successful and how that is beneficial to the business community.”

Other members include those from the educational and nonprofit sectors.

Another member, retired Vice President for Student Affairs at OSU Ron Beer, urged the community to do what it could to assist.

“Not all of our younger citizens have had an environment while growing through adolescence to observe or learn about how to become a productive person, to receive constructive guidance about growing into adulthood and the individual responsibilities that are necessary to achieve a successful transition into adulthood, and to develop skills essential to be an independent, responsible citizen,” he said.

Without a transition program, some youth find themselves homeless, he said.

“This should be unacceptable in a community as caring as Stillwater,” Beer said.

“You and I can make a big difference in the lives of some of our most vulnerable young people by making personal contributions of money, urging the church community to which we belong and persuade the civic clubs of which we are members to make monetary donations, and support those members of the business community which join the efforts to find funding to support the development and implementation of this Transition Program.

“Let us not fall into complacency and ignore this relatively small but very vulnerable group of young men and women. “

For more information, call PCYS at 377-3380 or the Oklahoma Lion’s Boy’s Ranch at 547-2462.

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