By William K. Alcorn
A new group provides young adults in the foster-care system and those aging out, usually at 18, a chance to beat the odds and succeed.
Formed late in 2012, the 50- plus-member Employee Volunteer Group at Roth, a Sodexo company, has already raised several thousand dollars for the Rescue Mission of Mahoning Valley, The Hope Foundation of Mahoning Valley, Special Olympics and the Wounded Warrior program, and it helped a number of local families have a Christmas celebration.
While the Roth Employee Volunteer Group is not formally associated with Roth, the company encourages its employees to be involved in the volunteer group, said Derek Cook, director of information-technology operations at Roth and head of the volunteer group’s Aging-Out Project.
Roth, which supplies energy_ efficient heating, ventilation, and air conditioning, facilities automation and roofing services, has been in business for 90 years.
The volunteer group has set its sights on helping youths who age-out of foster care by linking them with mentors, housing, furnishings and jobs, Cook said.
“We are working with state employees to learn the needs of young adults in the foster-care system ... and we are working with some great people in our community to establish mentors, job leads and resources for housing,” he said.
On April 13, the volunteer group plans to match some aging-out youth with its members to volunteer at Second Harvest Food Bank of the Mahoning Valley.
The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services says providing mentors is important.
“They need guidance from people with established lives with daily routines, whether they be professionals, stay-at-home moms, hourly workers, sales people or in the trades,” said Cook, who had foster children in his life as a youth.
His parents, Matthew Cook and Dagmar Amrhein, both of Youngstown, were foster parents to several children, said the 1987 graduate of Cardinal Mooney High School. Cook attended Youngstown State University and Kent State University at Trumbull to become a Microsoft-certified systems engineer.
To this day, he thinks of one of his foster care siblings, Eileen of Orlando, Fla., as a sister.
His biological siblings are Matt Cook of Indianapolis, Mike Cook of Phoenix, Ariz., Dagmar Goleno of Austintown, and Madonna Cook of Houston. He and his wife, Mary, have a son, Derek Jr.
“I believe that everyone needs to feel as though they have people that care about them and love them,” Cook said. “Youth fortunate enough to have families with whom they interact usually are able to receive help with furniture or support or encouragement toward employment or education.
The Aging-Out Project begins with its first young adults who have aged out of foster care in the Mahoning Valley in April.
Cook said the group has goals of expanding the project throughout the state and nation.
“This is a passion with me. In order for our society to succeed, we need to all take some sort of responsibility for aged-out foster kids,” Cook said. “It is not their choice to be put in an institution and raised by nonfamily members. With a little love and direction, I believe we can make a difference.”