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Feb 01 2023

Blog: Helping Mayson Get on Track

Helping Mayson Get on Track

Geminus’ Older Youth Services offers vital support and connection to young people aging out of foster care.

Mayson Stewart had been in and out of Indiana’s foster care system for nearly a decade by the time he was 16 years old in 2021. He knew he had to start thinking about a plan for his life after he aged out of the system at 18.

But he was unsure where to turn. Then his Indiana Department of Child Services caseworker told him about Older Youth Services, Geminus’ continuum of care that starts at 16 years old and continues until the youth is 21 years old.

Mayson enrolled.

Now he’s set to graduate high school next year. He’s working on getting a drivers license—using a car that Older Youth Services provides—and is about to land a job. He has a five-year plan to finish trade school and work in heating, ventilation, and air conditioning.

“I’d be way farther behind in life than where I am now,” Mayson said about where he’d be without Older Youth Services’ support. “I would not have learned a lot of the things that I’ve learned so far.”

Established in 2020 through a contract with the Department of Child Services, Older Youth Services offers young people in eight Northwest Indiana counties guidance and support in education, employment, housing, furnishings, bill payment, financial management, daily living activities and related areas. Voluntary participation can continue until the young person is 23 years old.

Older Youth Services participants also can earn career certifications through WorkOne, Indiana’s state workforce development system, Older Youth Services Program Manager Corrine Witkowski said.

“There’s always something new coming up,” she added. “So, we always try to think outside the box for the youth. We try to instill in all our case managers in the field that it’s important not just to direct the young people but to make sure that we hear what they’re saying they need and how we can provide services and what we can do to connect them to make sure they’re getting the things they need.”

That listening includes paying attention to participants’ suggestions on what could be added to Older Youth Services. Acting on that concept, Older Youth Services organized a symposium on mental health in May 2022 at Chateau Banquets in Merrillville. A yoga class, rhythm percussion session, and motivational speech were presented. Representatives on mental health and primary care, counseling, and LGBTQ services were available, as was an employment resource for those with mental health conditions. Attendees received a free lunch, too.

Finding What Works

The need to support youth aging out of the foster care system is great, Witkowski said. Many of the young people have endured significant challenges over the years and struggle to become independent once they’re on their own.

“The youth need people who are on their side,” Witkowski said, “people who really want to see them succeed, and not just assume that they’re not going to succeed because of where they come from.”

Older Youth Services’ biggest challenge, she added, is to persuade young people struggling with mental health issues to receive counseling. Getting the youths to understand scheduling is another. Finding housing also is a serious issue, Witkowski said.

The work can be demanding, but successes occur regularly. Moving a young person into an apartment is inspiring and powerful, Witkowski said, as is the moment a client lands a job. She mentioned one youth who is about to graduate from high school with an A-plus grade point average and has worked out his plans for college.

“I think our strong suit is hustling through those crisis situations,” Witkowski said, “really pushing hard to get them through and coming out successful.” Older Youth Services also has strong partnerships with other organizations that can provide services the young people need.

“We don’t really give up on trying to assist the youth,” she said, “even when they’re difficult. We might try one thing and if it doesn’t work, we’ll try another and then another.”

Mayson considers himself fortunate to be participating in Older Youth Services. He learned about being patient and methodical to work through problems and find solutions. Other young people in circumstances he experienced a year ago would be wise to enroll in Older Youth Services, he said.

“You might not think it’s important when you’re first offered it,” Mayson said. “But down the line, it’s going to be a big help. It’s going to set you up in life more than you think.”