Story By Dorothy Markulis
Imagine you just had your 18th birthday and you’ve been in foster care most of your life. You’re 18. Now you are legally an adult. For one reason or another you have no family to rely on. You are on your own.
Now what? Where do you go? Where do you live? How do you support yourself? What if you get ill? These are weighty problems for an 18-year-old.
But do not despair. There is help. It’s called Summit Up.
Summit Up is a collaborative effort initiated by Summit County Children Services designed to assist young people who have aged out of foster care.
“Each year In the U.S., 30,000 youth age out of the public child welfare system – only to face a multitude of new life challenges related to employment, access to medical, mental health and substance abuse services, housing, social supports and more,” states Karla McDay, Independent Living / Transitional Housing Supervisor for Summit County Children Services.
According to McDay MSW, LISW, national studies reflect that one in five of these youth will become homeless- while yet others will find themselves facing incarceration, unemployment, early pregnancy and other risks.
In Summit County alone, in 2015, 40 to 45 youths found themselves aged out of the foster care system.
“They need our assistance,” McDay states.
Without assistance and the engagement of the community those youths could end up in the criminal justice system.
To remedy those situations, Summit County Children Services formed a Youth Emancipation Task Force in 2009 with approximately 40 participating agencies.
McDay said she believes the task force was one of the nation’s first to assist emancipated youth. This task force ultimately resulted in Summit Up.
“The Task Force, comprised of some 40 community leaders, had one unified goal: to improve the availability of services to the underserved, emancipating population. The initiative put in place multiple resources for the transition age population, making services accessible in six key areas – Housing, Employment/Education, Health/Mental Health Care, Legal Services, Community Supports and Transportation,” reports McDay.
One of the task force’s developments was The Purple Umbrella logo.
“The Purple Umbrella logo is a symbol of hope and help for foster youth, the umbrella window decals were displayed in the windows of participating organizations throughout the county,” McDay states.
The purple umbrella symbolizes protection for those formerly in foster care and is the logo for the initial task force. When displayed by merchants and service organization the umbrella indicates that they will offer special assistance to youth.
In January 2015, the scope was broadened to include non- Summit County Children Services involved youth as well as those who had involvement but did not emancipate. Involved members include the Emancipation Task Force steering committee, youth in the community, and representatives from OASIS Ministries, SOS (Street Outreach Services — a subsidiary of Safe Landing), InfoLine, Altrusa International, Summit County Job and Family Services and Goodwill Industries of Akron, according to McDay.
An example of the assistance rendered by Summit Up was an outreach event in November at Oasis Outreach Center in Akron. The event was designed to link youth with available resources.
More than 20 vendors participated, offering haircuts, health screenings, free clothing, hygiene supplies and other valuable information.
Sandell Williams, 21, can testify first-hand to the benefits offered by Summit Up and Oasis. Although not a former foster child, he has been on his own for several years.
“It’s a great learning experience. It helps you when you’re living on your own,” Williams said.
Williams said he was referred to the task force as a youth representative by his minister.
“Some of the kids we’ve seen are homeless and some don’t know where their next meal is coming from,” Williams added.
Youth assistance is Summit Up’s goal, McDay stresses.
“Our next focus is preparing for youth employment,” McDay states.
Toward that end, an employment/education resource fair is planned for April 27 from 3 to 7 p.m. at the Oasis Resource Center, 847 Crouse St., Akron.
“We want to talk work,” McDay says.
She says approximately 16 agencies will be on hand to help the emancipated youth answer the question: What are you going to do about work? Eight of the agencies will focus on work opportunities and eight of the agencies will focus on additional education.
Interested donors and volunteers for this event can contact The Summit County Children Services Independent Living Program at (330) 379-2037 or go to: The Summit County Children Services