Truckee’s iFoster receives national recognition
October 9, 2018
Each year tens of thousands of youngsters in foster care age out of the program, leaving youths with little recourse or places to turn other than welfare or crime.
Since 2010, Truckee nonprofit iFoster has been steadily working to give that segment in foster care the skills and opportunities needed to find jobs and pursue higher education.
"Around 30,000 youths every year leave the foster care system, and that transition-age group, their support is cut off, and they are just shoved out there," said iFoster cofounder Reid Cox. "They don't have a family to support them, they don't have a network to support them. They're completely alone, so they become this feeder channel for the justice system, becoming incarcerated; a feeder system for commercially and sexually exploited children; and they become a feeder network for social services — unemployment, welfare, etc."
Cox and his wife, Serita Cox, started iFoster in 2010 as a means for foster families and social workers to connect through an app and website in order to receive resources like discounts on medical care, computers and school equipment, and by also helping with employment.
Recently those efforts to help those aging out of foster care were recognized by U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, who nominated iFoster for the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute's Angels in Adoption Program. The program honors individuals and organizations making extraordinary contributions to adoption, permanency, and child welfare, and includes past recipients such as Muhammad Ali and Laura Bush.
The recognition included a trip to Washington, D.C., last week, which allowed Cox to reach out to several governors and members of congress about iFoster and its programs.
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"It was an opportunity to meet some very influential elected officials," said Cox. "We sat down with Dianne Feinstein's office, we sat down with Dean Heller out of Nevada, we sat down with Congresswoman Julia Brownley's office, and we met at the dinner of several governors … it was a great group to be able to get in front of."
Creating more opportunity
Cox said iFoster has been pushing to grow its jobs program, helping to provide opportunities to a segment of foster care that has often been overlooked.
"It's tragic for the youth who don't get that," said Cox on the program. "They were so close. It wouldn't have taken a lot to give them the confidence, to give them the skills, and to give them the opportunity to be successful. It just didn't happen and that's what keeps us up at night."
Through its jobs program, iFoster has partnered with more than 20 businesses like Raley's Supermarkets and Starbucks to help provide jobs for those aging out of foster care.
"It's not a massive investment in dollars or time, but what it does is teach our youths how to function in a work environment," said Cox. "We have 25 employer partners, who will hire our youths. We prepare them to be interviewed, and out employer partners — it's not charity, this is competitive work — they can choose to hire our youth or not. They absolutely want to hire our youths."
Cox said individuals in the jobs program typically stay with an employer two to three times longer than average workers.
"Our youth turn out to be better the youth who were not raised in challenging circumstances. When you grow up with that amount of adversity, you develop a lot of perseverance. You develop tremendous resiliency and that's a tremendous asset when you're out in the world," said Cox.
"They haven't had as much respect or support as you'd hope every child gets. When an employer or a program like us comes into their life and shows them that, says 'We got your back,' it creates incredible loyalty. When they go on the job, that combination of appreciation, loyalty, and perseverance makes them outstanding employees."
The jobs program has been available in California, and recently expanded to iFoster's new office in New York. The nonprofit is also looking to get involved in the Reno area, according to Cox, before expanding further.
AmeriCorps and higher education
IFoster has also recently teamed up with AmeriCorps, a network of national service programs that aim to improve lives while fostering civic engagement.
In partnership with AmeriCorps, Cox said, iFoster will train roughly 200 transition-age youths to become members of the program.
"AmeriCorps reached out to us and we're working on finding service opportunities for a hundred youths in Los Angeles, as well as another 100 youths in the Bay Area," said Cox. "We're going to be training transition-age youths as AmeriCorps, who will then help other transition-age youth find the resources and opportunities that they need to be successful. It's going to provide tremendous work experience and volunteer experience to our community. That volunteer work that they are going to do is going to help hundreds more transition-age youth become successful."
Along with the jobs program, iFoster is helping youths further their education.
"We realized that 80 percent of foster youth would like the opportunity to go to college," said Cox. "We're launching that this month in New York. It's a whole educational path that is broke into three categories — plan, pay, and persist. It uses all of the resources we have and is tied closely to our jobs program."
Through the program students planning on attending college or vocational school are given guidance on securing funding through programs like financial aid, picking majors, managing time, sticking to a budget, and any other issues that might face them along the way.
Communities Thrive Challenge
iFoster has had a whirlwind past few months.
The nonprofit has expanded into New York, grown its online membership to nearly 50,000, and was given national recognition by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute.
The company is now in the running for a $1 million grant via the Communities Thrive Challenge. The Rockefeller Foundation and Chan Zuckerberg Initiative created the challenge and will donate $10 million to 10 organizations that are working to expand economic opportunity for low-income and financially insecure people and communities in the US.
Of nearly 2,000 applicants who entered, iFoster was one of 20 finalists selected last September. Ten $1 million recipients will be announced later in the fall.
For more information on iFoster, visit iFoster.org.
"It's very rewarding for us to realize the work we've been doing to this point is starting to intersect with some very large, supportive entities," Cox said. "We're more optimistic now about what we can do for this population then, perhaps, we have been this entire time. Hopefully a lot more really great stuff is on the horizon."
Justin Scacco is a reporter for the Sierra Sun. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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