Finding Stability After Foster Care
November is National Homeless Youth Awareness Month. In particular, youth aging out of foster care are at high risk for becoming homeless. Through our supportive housing programs in Northern New Jersey, Volunteers of America-Greater New York is helping at-risk youth prepare for the transition to mature, independent adulthood.
The bond between brothers Warren and Isaiah is unmistakable, despite not growing up by each other’s side.
In 2003, their mother who struggles with mental illness, suddenly and without a plan, moved the family — Warren, Isaiah and their two older siblings — from New Orleans to New Jersey where they found themselves in a shelter for homeless families. Soon after, concerned about the children’s welfare, social services removed the children from their mother and placed each in a separate foster home. Warren was six years old and Isaiah, three. Isaiah’s placement was hours away and so, he did not get regular visits home like his older brother.
Through the years, the children would return to their mother when she felt capable of caring for them, and go back into the system when she was not. Isaiah was placed with a family that took him back each time he was in care. Warren, struggling with authority and discipline, bounced between multiple foster homes and institutions. This pattern set the stage for the entirety of their childhood.
Along the way, the boys’ case workers did what they could to provide some stability, ensuring continuity in their schooling, and both boys are proud to say they “walked.” They earned their high school diploma and attended graduation. The boys credit their mother too, for instilling in them the importance of school.
Finding Stability at Volunteers of America-Greater New York
As older teens, Warren and Isaiah continued to experience instability at home until finally, 20 years old and living in his car, Warren was found by the brothers’ former case worker and encouraged to look at VOA-Greater New York’s Synergy Program for at-risk youth. When Warren visited Synergy and the apartment he would share with a roommate, and met Aisha (pictured below), the person who would be his case manager, he decided to give it a try. The one-year program gave Warren the stability he needed to find his footing.
In Warren’s words, living at Synergy allowed him to “practice” living independently while receiving guidance and support from staff. They taught him about managing his money and building credit, caring for a home — he enjoys hands-on projects and learned to fix just about anything in the apartment — and all other life skills in preparation for him truly being on his own.
Warren is proud of what he accomplished. He secured a full-time job with benefits, achieved his goal of saving up for a car, and eventually moved into his own apartment. He even felt confident enough to host Thanksgiving dinner for his family and VOA-Greater New York staff last year.
Based on his brother’s successful experience at Synergy, Isaiah, who had been living in a transitional program elsewhere, applied to the same program and actually moved into Warren’s old room. The supervised autonomy of this new situation has enabled Isaiah to balance a full-time job at the Y, enroll in Bergen Community College, and actively participate in his church and sing in the choir. He plans to pursue a career in special education or mathematics. Warren dreams of owning his own barbershop.
Looking back, Isaiah says their early experiences were not “terrible.” In fact, he feels they shaped him into the person he is today. But both young men agree that their time at VOA-Greater New York significantly increased their confidence and, ensuring their everyday needs were met, enabled them to focus on reaching their goals.
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