By William K. Alcorn
A 20-year-old mother of two, who at 18 aged out of the foster-care system, has an apartment that she says feels like a home thanks to the Roth Brothers Volunteer Group-Aging Out Ohio project.
The 35 volunteers, all employees of Roth Brothers Heating, Ventilating and Air Conditioning, 3847 Crum Road, provide furniture, household appliances and other necessities, baby supplies, and curtains — items that young adults who have aged out of foster care can’t always afford, said Derek Cook, president of the group.
Aging-out is when youths transition out of the formal control of the foster-care system toward independent living, usually when they turn 18 and are out of high school. They may be able to get some extended help with grants and donations.
“This is where we step in,” Cook said.
“They do the little things that make a place a home. There is no government program that fills that need,” said Breanna Haynes of Youngstown, whose apartment is one of several occupied by former foster children that Roth Brothers Volunteer Group has helped furnish.
Haynes, the mother of A’Lurie, 2 months, and A’Mirah, 4, was in foster care from childhood until 2011.
Government programs help with rent and utilities for a time after they age out, but she said she did not have money to furnish her apartment.
She said Roth volunteers helped in many ways.
“They got [diapers] for my baby, found a lawyer to resolve a legal issue and helped me find transportation to get back and forth to work. They are a very good group. You don’t find a lot of people who are really good like that,” she said.
“They are all like family. They treat you like you are family. There is no agency that fills that need,” Haynes said.
She said Cook even invited her to his home for Thanksgiving.
“He’s like the dad I never had. He’s done a lot for me these last couple of months,” Haynes said.
Roth volunteers work with foster children, initially in group homes, to try to get them on the right track so when they turn 18 they are better prepared to get an apartment and a job and to think about education, said Cook, director of information technology operations at Roth Brothers.
“We find that once they turn 18, without our help or any type of family out there, a lot of former foster kids become homeless,” he said.
In many instances when they age out, they don’t know about basic programs such as Ohio’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the federally funded Women, Infants and Children, and the Home Energy Assistance Program that helps eligible households with utility bills.
“We help get them signed up while they are looking for work. We also help them get a driver’s license and get jobs,” said Cook, who talked about a couple of success stories that the Roth volunteers had a hand in.
A former foster-care woman is enrolled in Mahoning-Youngstown Community Action Partnership’s Workforce Development Program learning basic skills about finding and keeping a job; and a young man working at a call center was recommended for promotion after only three weeks on the job, Cook said.
The Roth Volunteer Group also has received community help.
An anonymous donor gave it a pickup truck used to move furniture, and the Roth volunteers are looking for other individuals and businesses in the community to help with their project to help young people aged out of the foster-care system.
“We want to expand this program throughout Ohio and possibly nationally once we get a good model working here,” Cook said.
“I believe they [aged-out youth] want to get a job and do the right thing. When you break it down in terms of human needs, it is being kind to each other. When we put furniture in one young man’s apartment, he was literally jumping up and down with excitement,” Cook said.
He urged individuals, businesses and organizations that want to get involved in the Roth Volunteer Group’s aging-out project by donating household items or money or providing jobs to write Derek Cook, Roth Volunteer Group. P.O. Box 11250, Youngstown, OH 44511-0250, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Roth Volunteer Group also is seeking monetary donations to help it purchase “dream gifts” for 15 foster care youth this Christmas. People who wish to donate should send a check or money order to the above address or visit online the Roth Volunteer Group’s FaceBook and follow the prompts, Cook said.
SDLqThese truly are the forgotten kids in our society. We learn as much from them, if not more, than they do from us, about life and the importance of other people’s challenges in life and how to overcome them. Working with these young people is very satisfying,” Cook added.