Entering adulthood can be challenging for many young people, but for the 4,000 former foster youth who “age out” of the system each year in California, the transition can be especially daunting. To help ease the transition to independence and support former foster youth to get started on the right foot, the County of San Diego developed the Workforce Academy for Youth (WAY) program. WAY provides six-month paid internships to participating youth (ages 17-21) and help them develop work and life skills that will prepare them for ongoing positions within the County, or an equivalent job.
For a young person who may have had a tumultuous childhood and no prior work experience, the world of work can be a strange place. Fortunately, the program supports interns every step of the way. Not only do interns gain concrete, marketable job skills, but they are also placed with a Job Coach who helps them navigate the professional and behavioral expectations that are needed for successful employment.
Sometimes, though, a young person needs an ally who can help them navigate the many challenges of everyday life – budgeting, applying for college, navigating the health care system, and finding affordable housing, among countless other concerns.
Enter senior Life Skills Coaches. These older adults, age 50+, commit to serve as a mentor and a friend to the youth, ideally spending at least an hour each week with them. Over time, the support offered by Life Skills Coaches help youth to develop a sense of self-confidence and self-esteem. Youth have many positive things to say about their connection with their senior mentors.
“I am glad that I was paired with my Life Skills Coach. We have similar interests and she is very caring, compassionate, and encouraging. She is a great role model and someone I definitely want to continue talking to,” said a WAY participant.
Another WAY participant echoed the same sentiment.
“I had a great relationship with my Life Skills Coach….I was able to talk with her about any problems and she always offered to help.”
But it isn’t just the former foster youth who benefits from the program. WAY Life Coaches find that they too gain much from the interaction.
“The connection is worth every minute of time with the interns. Both the Coach and the intern benefit,” said a WAY Life Coach.
“Each time has been pretty special and I know each intern has learned great lessons from me: cooking, believing in themselves and looking forward to the future. I enjoy being with them and a person will learn so much from each of them – I sure have,” another WAY Life Coach exclaimed.
To date, 200 youth have graduated from the program. With the skills learned, these youth are well on their way to a successful, independent adulthood.
For more information on WAY, please contact Pam Plimpton at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (858) 495-5769.