Is a typical 18 year old ready to live independently without support of any kind? The answer, of course, is no. And fragile young people who’ve grown up or lived large portions of their lives in foster care are particularly vulnerable. United Church of Christ-related Elon Homes and Schools for Children in Charlotte, N.C., is working to provide the support and extended care so many young adults need.
Opening in May, Foster Care Village –– located on the campus of Johnson C. Smith University in West Charlotte –– will house young men between 18 and 21 who have been part of the foster care system. The first dormitory “will house 32 young men,” says Fred Grosse, president and CEO of Elon Homes. “When the second dormitory is opened [slated for January 2018], we will shift the first dormitory population so that … we will have 24 youth in each building.”
The young adults in Foster Care Village must be employed or in school, or some combination of both. Additionally, there are community volunteer requirements for each resident. Elon has partnered with several Charlotte-area educational institutions, and is recruiting employers to hire and coach the residents.
The residents of the village will be able to stay in-care until they turn 21 –– a stark contrast to standard services, where young people “age out” at 18. While at Foster Care Village, the young men will acquire vital skills and knowledge, including decision making, life skills, and financial management skills. There also will be a focus on the spiritual life of residents.
“Spiritual nurture is a requirement of the program,” says Grosse. “Each youth must have access to a faith community and is encouraged to participate. Several local congregations are already involved with our organization and we expect to expand their involvement. The university also has a spiritual life center, which is open to our residents.”
The village is the latest venture in the partnership between Elon and the Johnson C. Smith. All children and students at Elon have full access to academic and extra-curricular activities the university. “It is our joint hope that youth in our care will see role models, mentors and friends at this university setting, which will encourage the youth to continue their own education and responsible living,” Grosse adds.
Johnson C. Smith University is a 150-year-old historically black college and university. Elon has been housed in four buildings on the JCSU campus since 2013.
“We were invited to locate at JCSU by JCSU President Ronald L. Carter because of his strong interest in the education of children and youth in the foster care system,” says Grosse. “Dr. Carter has been a foster parent and has adopted one son from a social services agency.”
“The EHSC Foster Care Village enlarges the horizon of the University’s goal to educate mainstream America,” says Carter. “The partnership between Elon Homes and Schools for Children and Johnson C. Smith University … provides a testament of hope for young men seeking to keep their visions alive.”
Some 26,000 youth age out of foster care each year, and many of them need a safe place to live and grow. Grosse hopes Foster Care Village is just the start of providing such spaces.
“EHSC is ready to work with young men who are in need of shelter, education and academic options,” adds Grosse. “The ultimate dream is that each young man leaves our care with the education, life skills and hope to live a productive and independent life.”
Elon Homes and Schools for Children is a CHHSM-member ministry founded in 1907 by the Southern Convention of Christian Churches, one of the UCC’s predecessor bodies. Along with Foster Care Village, Elon offers behavioral and mental health services and community-based foster care to children in the Charlotte area. Donations to help furnish the bedrooms of Foster Care Village residents are welcome.