The UCC’s Renewed Elon Homes Gives Foster Youth a Safe Space to Grow

Elon Homes Board of Governors member Mike Stewart (facing youth) and his guests meet with a resident at Foster Care Village.

A 65-cent donation has come a long way. That’s how much a young girl put in the offering plate at a church meeting in 1892, saying she’d like it to grow into an orphanage for children. Her dream was realized 15 years later and, today, the United Church of Christ’s Elon Homes of North Carolina — a campus and community based foster care community — has adapted and changed with the times to offer children, youth, and young adults a range of foster care support services.

Most recently, Elon Homes and its partner, Johnson C. Smith University, opened — and are expanding — Foster Care Village. Located on the campus of the university in West Charlotte, N.C., it currently houses young men between 17 and 21 who have been part of the foster care system.

“The residential program is now four months old and has launched in spectacular fashion,” says the Rev. Frederick G. Grosse, president and CEO of Elon Homes. “We have nine residents already, and 100 percent of them are meeting all program standards. We anticipate a ‘full house’ of 31 youth by April 2018.”

Teaching to Succeed

A typical dorm bedroom (above) and dorm living room (below).

Foster Care Village provides housing for a minimal cost, and residents are given around-the-clock services to help them succeed, including life skills, decision making, financial management skills, and spiritual nurture. In return, they must be in school or have a job. Life in Foster Care Village also includes monthly service learning projects in the community or at the university.

Recently, three residents left the program to live on their own, and five more have just moved in. “We are in the process of creating an advisory board with our first group to allow them to assist us with interviewing future candidates and encouraging them to become leaders and take ownership in their residency,” says April Rainer, director of the village. “We actively recruit for residents throughout North Carolina.”

The program is possible thanks to a change in North Carolina law that took effect a year ago. The state’s Foster Care 18-21 law allows Elon Homes to support youth aging out of traditional foster care at 18. “There were no other options for older youth prior to this law,” says Rainer.

As with most new laws, Foster Care 18-21 has not been uniformly applied to aging-out youth or county social service agencies. “Our staff are spending a surprisingly large amount of time just educating foster youth and social service agencies about this new law and the incredible opportunities for youth 18-21,” Rainer adds.

Expanding the Dream

The current expansion of Foster Care Village will go a long way to helping Elon Homes meet its goals of having a university student mentor each young adult in the program, and opening the program to include women. A second dormitory will open in 2019 as a program for young women ages 17-21.

Behind the ongoing success of the foster care programs at Elon Homes is a renewed sense of mission and ministry, thanks to a two-year study of its name and purpose. To that end, the CHHSM-member ministry’s new tag line — education, employment and independence — has become a mantra for the success of Foster Care Village and other Elon Homes programs. “It is our plan to … become a ‘household name’ that is synonymous with campus and community based foster care with excellent outcomes,” says Grosse.

The expansion of Foster Care Village is a giant step in that direction. “We are fully vested in the value of this program, and the hope and dignity we can bring to our [residents],” Rainer says. “By 2020, we expect to have 50 young men and young women in this program.”

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