In the United States this year, 26,000 youth will age out of foster care. They’ll turn 18 years old and — with no family and limited adult guidance — they’ll be left to their own devices to find transportation, finish school, get a job and find a place to live. This can be a daunting enough task for an 18-year old going off to college with a support system in place, but for foster youth nearing emancipation, it can be overwhelming. And the outcome is usually grim.
In Florida, more than 50 percent of aging-out youth will experience homelessness, get lured into sex trafficking or gangs, become incarcerated, resort to a life of drugs and crime, or die, according to a report published in 2012 by the Florida Commission on the Status of Women.
Locally, this translates to three hundred youth that will be emancipated from the foster care system. While they may be considered legal adults, many of them haven’t fully developed or been taught the life skills they’ll need to transition successfully into the adult world. They’ll experience feelings of rejection and isolation, lack self-confidence and can suffer from PTSD. Additionally, many will be in poor physical health, as well as lack the professional skills necessary to enjoy a quality life as productive members in the community.
BiG Children’s Foundation
BiG Children’s Foundation, a 501 ( c ) 3 non-profit organization, recognizes that for an at-risk youth to thrive and succeed, they need guidance, resources, opportunity and hope. BCF is committed to investing in local foster and at-risk youth through mentoring, education and support with their new iMfit2SUCCEED Program, a 2-year outcome based program that will address the challenges facing at-risk and aging out foster youth.
“Children who age-out of foster care suddenly find themselves in a complex world without the necessary support and mentoring. Because of the unstable life they experienced as children, these young adults are often ill-prepared to navigate young adulthood alone. Having ushered a young adult through that process, I’ve seen that not providing these young adults with support and assistance can certainly lead to long-term and often generational negative effects,” said Matt Weissing, civil trial attorney with Farmer, Jaffe, Weissing, Edwards, Fistos & Lehrman, P.L.
The program’s four modules focus on key areas such as personal health and wellness, emotional healing, independence preparedness, and leadership development.
iMfit — is a guided outcome-based personal journey to health and wellness and tackles topics such as nutrition education, cooking classes, stress management, personal hygiene and disease prevention.
iMfree — focuses on emotional healing through expression and redirection. The youth engage in performance art, dance, choir, drama, craftmaking, videography and more. They also benefit from motivational and positive self-talk workshops and counseling.
iMequipped — is a road to independence. The youth learn the abc’s of household management, auto care, budgeting, resume writing, interviewing and more, all in preparation to transition into adulthood successfully.
iMready — is a practical introduction to leadership. Youth hold responsible positions on committees, attend meetings, lead teams and communicate with sponsors and donors. They learn responsibility, develop critical thinking skills and build lasting professional relationships.
“We’re currently piloting the program’s first module, iMfit, with the hope to launch the full program in the fall. But as with most non-profit programs, we’re seeking funding so we’re asking the community to join us in being part of the solution,” said Joyce Feldman, of BiG Children’s Foundation.
“This work is so important. It could change the lives of at-risk and aging out youth and give them hope for a healthy, successful future. Respectfully, we can invest in them now on the front end in preparation and prevention, and eliminate paying for them on the back in the form of taxes that pay for social services, rehab and incarceration,” said Feldman. “Likewise, we’re inviting the community to participate in BiG Cardio—a fun, 5K, fitness and sports event—as it will help fund the program.”
The annual BiG Cardio event is a unique blend of all things fitness, sports, cycle and fun that takes place on Saturday, May 6 at Central Broward Regional Park in Lauderhill. Celebrating 10 years of doing good, BiG Cardio is designed to make fitness a fun activity for everyone at every age. With 10 fitness activities and sports to choose from, and dozens of other attractions, it’s become one of South Florida’s favorite events.
“My heart is to utilize BiG Cardio as a community platform to advocate for children and youth in crisis or at-risk, and generate awareness and revenue,” said Feldman.
To find out how you can get involved and register for BiG Cardio, visit bigcardio.org. To learn more about the iMfit2SUCCED Program, please visit bigcf.org or contact Joyce directly at 954-933-3129.