From foster system to independent living

Imagine growing up away from family, friends or a sense of familiarity. Moving from home to home, perhaps without a mentor to learn essential life skills from.

This is reality for many of Kansas’ foster children. And when these children turn 18, they “age out” of the foster system and instantly become independents. Many of these children simply lack the necessary living and coping skills to do this, according to Justine Burton, founder StopGap Inc., an organization that will teach kids those skills.

“Looking at the kids now, they don’t have the knowledge to budget (or) maintain a home,” Burton said. She said she wants to teach foster kids how to live healthy lives.

Burton addressed the Douglas County Commission on Tuesday to help promote her organization. Although StopGap is in the development phase, Burton has a clear idea of what she wants to do.

StopGap will be an “18-24 month transitional program that accepts youth between the ages of 16-21″ for kids who have or are about to age out of the foster system. It will be a permanent housing situation that will teach kids essential life skills, assist their pursuit of education and employment and provide mentoring services. The program will help kids about to make the transition into independent living as well as those who have nowhere to go after leaving the foster care system.

But before housing kids, StopGap needs permanent board members, said Dorothy Jenicke, an Americorps VISTA volunteer who was recently assigned to help Burton build StopGap.

“If you don’t have a good board, you’re not going to survive as a non-profit,” Jenicke said.

StopGap will also need a sizable amount of money. Burton said $350,000 is needed to start operations. And although StopGap will be licensed with the state, Burton wants to be financially independent from state government funding.

“If we got it later on down the line that’d be fine,” she said. “But I don’t want it to be where if they don’t give us money, we’re not sustainable.”

Jenicke said they will seek money from grants and donations from large companies. But until then, they’re seeking publicity and professionals willing to volunteer their time.

Burton said her motivation to start the foundation came from her own experience growing up in the foster community.

“I really believe in this program,” she said. “I know this program can work because there are so many kids that need this help that are not getting.”

  • Updated Mar. 31, 2011 at 7:04 pm