HopeWell is pleased and proud to announce the expansion of our My First Place™ program to Springfield!
Through My First Place™, youth aging out of foster care receive stable, safe and affordable housing, community-based case management, and individualized education and employment support. A team of staff including a Youth Advocate, an Education and Employment Specialist, and a Housing Specialist support young adults as they work toward their healthy living, education, employment, and housing goals.
HopeWell first began serving youth through My First Place™ from our Roxbury office in February of 2018 to meet the urgent needs for housing, support, and other resources among youth that were transitioning out of living in foster care and into independent young adulthood. More than 25,000 young people across the U.S. age out of the foster care system every year. Lacking the consistent support of family to guide them in developing the skills of independent living, teens who age out of foster care often experience homelessness, unemployment, and poverty. The National Foster Youth Institute estimates that one-quarter of former foster care youth experience homelessness within four years of aging out of the child welfare system and are arrested within two. About half of youth emancipated from foster care have chronic health conditions like asthma, post-traumatic stress, malnutrition, and dental decay and up to one-third lack health insurance. Fewer than five percent will earn a bachelor’s degree.
The COVID-19 pandemic only exacerbated the challenges that transition-age youth experience, as unemployment skyrocketed and maintaining safe, stable housing became difficult for many people with limited resources. As HopeWell President and CEO Shaheer Mustafa pointed out in this CommonWealth op-ed last year, a poll of 172 youth aged 18-24 that were formerly in foster care showed that more than a quarter were suffering from food insecurity. Nearly 40 percent of respondents had been forced to move or feared having to do so. Twenty-seven percent had been laid off because of the pandemic, while another 40 percent had their hours severely cut or saw a decrease in gig work.
The staff of My First Place™ works with youth to provide the support, structure, and guidance they need to develop the skills they need to thrive on their own. Johanne, a past participant in our Roxbury program, said it helped her feel “you’re not by yourself, you’re not alone, you have that support behind you.” Her sister who also participated in the program credited it with teaching her to be more independent by helping her learn “to budget, how to save, how to solve my problems head on.”
HopeWell is currently seeking a Housing Specialist, Youth Advocate, and Education and Employment Specialist for our Springfield My First Place™ program. We’re excited to expand our program, which assists young people in need at such a pivotal point in their lives, into Western Mass. We know that with the proper support and access to opportunity, young people can transition from foster care to a life of independence, stability, and fulfillment.