New program helps foster care youth aging out of system prepare for adult life

Officials say 45 area foster care kids have signed up for the program

San Antonio – Krizia Ramirez Franklin remembers loading up the vehicle she bought with her savings as a teenager and heading to the University of Texas at San Antonio.

Ramirez, who was in the foster care system throughout her life, said she was not prepared for what she would face as a first-year university student.

“It was a very scary and overwhelming experience,” Ramirez said. “I had no idea what I was in for; I really didn’t. I had to grow up even more.”

Ramirez was catapulted into adulthood while her peers enjoyed college life. She worked three jobs to keep a roof over her head. But luckily for her, she said, there were people she met along the way that helped guide her.

At 29, Ramirez is now a mentor to other foster care kids as part of the new Learning Independence Fosters Empowerment program (LIFE).

The coaching model is a partnership between Family Tapestry and the Bexar County Fostering Educational Success Program, which aims to support youth ages 16 years and up who will age out of the system.

Melissa Mahan, vice president of education and fostering coach for Family Tapestry, says there is no program like this out there, and it’s much needed.

Mahan says most kids have a safety net if they fail to achieve their desired goals after high school, through family and parents, but children in the foster system lack that.

“Many of them don’t have a plan as they exit out, and so they’ll end up homeless, or they will have other things that happen,” Mahan said. “This is a coaching program that helps them create a plan.”

Mahan says 45 local foster care youths have signed up for the program that started in September.

Mahan said the program goal is 96 youths in the first year, but they can help up to 250. The program is partly funded through Family Tapestry and legislative funds distributed through the county’s Fostering Success pilot program.

Currently, organizers are looking for a sustainable model to continue the program, which will follow the youths one year after they age out of the foster care system. The program is also looking for male volunteers to become mentors.

Mahan said participants will meet once a month as a group and one-on-one each week with their coaches.

“In the coaching sessions, the youth set the agenda. So they tell us really what they’re struggling with and what’s on their mind this week,” Mahan said. “And then we kind of help guide them to the resources that they need for that.”

Ramirez says having a program like this would have helped her out when she left foster care.

“When they leave, there will be nothing in place and no one telling them what to do, and that’s when things get really scary,” Ramirez said.

Related: Federal judge says she will again hold Texas in contempt of court for failing to meet foster care reforms

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