iFoster’s AmeriCorps Program Earns National Prize

iFoster received its “best new program” award at a presentation in Washington, D.C., last week. Pictured from left, are Corporation for National and Community Service CEO Barbara Stewart, Summer Rogers, iFoster CEO Serita Cox and AmeriCorps Director Chester Spellman. Photo courtesy of iFoster

A new California workforce program that has offered transition-age foster youth paid service work as part of the state’s AmeriCorps program has already garnered national recognition.

Last week, iFoster, the Truckee, California, nonprofit that helped develop the Transition-Age Youth (TAY) AmeriCorps program, was recognized with the “Best New AmeriCorps Program” award from the Corporation for National and Community Service, the federal agency that administers AmeriCorps. The award considered all AmeriCorps programs that have been started across the country since July 2017.

TAY AmeriCorps, which uses trained youth who are transitioning into adulthood from the foster care system to help refer other foster youth to services, has already received a major kudos despite its recent start.

“We launched TAY in March, so for us to win is so incredible,” said iFoster CEO Serita Cox. “There were 176 programs nationwide that have launched since July 1, 2017, and for us to win, it means everything … It validates the model [of peer mentorship].”

According to Cox, fewer than 20 percent of foster youth aging out of the foster care system feel prepared for adulthood. There are approximately 10,000 foster youth who are preparing to age out of foster care in the Bay Area and Los Angeles County, and within four years of leaving the foster care system, 50 percent of these youth will be homeless and 50 percent will be unemployed, she said.

The TAY AmeriCorps Program is designed to change that. The program has created paid service learning opportunities for 100 foster youth across the state: about 80 in Los Angeles County and 20 in the Bay Area.

It aims to provide peer-to-peer support to other foster youth, especially those individuals who are about to age out of the foster system at age 21 and become legal adults.

iFoster used a federal grant to train and employ former and current foster youth, as mentors for other foster youth.

“The program is about is to hire and train transition-age foster youth…” iFoster CEO Serita Cox said. “…to be peer navigators, to connect their peers to resources that can help them become successful, independent adults.”

Cox said that the TAY AmeriCorps hoped to reach 5,000 TAY foster youth and connect 3,500 to resources like housing, legal services, workforce training and other resources necessary to a successful transition to adulthood. So far, Cox said the California TAY AmeriCorps program had already connected 1,859 foster youth to services in the first four months of the program.

The success of TAY AmeriCorps has already made a big impact on foster youth who have participated in the program.

Richard Chavez, 21, is a TAY AmeriCorps member who believes the program has been very beneficial to everyone involved.

“I think the program is great and I wish it had been implemented sooner,” Chavez said. “It’s good to see a useful and effective system that allows youth to serve other youth while empowering ourselves and others.”

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