Maleah Truelove can relate to the 40 kids in foster care who gathered on Tuesday to learn about their options for the future.
She used to be one of them.
Truelove, a 911 operator, spoke to the group of teens at the inaugural Hall County Foster Children’s Independent Living Conference at the J.A. Walters branch of the YMCA.
Organizers of the event said it is the first of its kind in the state.
The program is available to teens ages 14-18 who are in foster care, and aims to help them be as well prepared for adulthood as possible.
"We try to provide an environment for them that will bring out the potential in them and help them become self-sufficient," program Coordinator Tom Kimbrough said.
Through the program, kids can learn how to apply for college, how to develop skills they will need in the workplace and how to live independently.
The program also provides financial assistance for post-
secondary education, even if the child is no longer in the foster care system.
Throughout the day, the teens
attended workshops on money management and budgeting, potential employers’ expectations for job applications and interviews and the importance of completing high school.
They were given information about college and technical school opportunities, as well as possible military service.
Connie Stephens, executive director of Court Appointed Special Advocates, said the program is a way for kids in foster care to transition into the real world.
"It is a ticket for the future of these children," she said.
Truelove, who was in and out of the foster care system growing up, faced challenges when trying to get her driver’s license or when going to the doctor.
A lot of foster children don’t know their biological family, and therefore aren’t aware of their medical history.
"They’re facing the unknown," Truelove said. "They’re looking at a lot of obstacles."
Truelove said Hall County has a need for more foster homes and CASA volunteers and must continue to educate foster care kids about how to be successful.
"These kids haven’t had attention in their lives," she said. "They just want to feel needed and loved."
Although the state has programs to help prepare youth become productive members of their communities, officials in Hall County felt they could enhance that mission on a more local level.
Hall County Juvenile Court Judge Cliff Jolliff said that local "stakeholders," agencies and volunteers involved in the foster care system wanted to get all of the kids together to learn what their options are when making the difficult transition to adulthood.
"When they turn 18 they’re on their own in our community, whether they’re ready or not," he said.
Jolliff said Tuesday’s conference gave the teens a chance to see judges, case workers and others in a different light, as well as spend time together.
After Tuesday’s experience, Jolliff said he hopes the teens will realize there are more people in Hall County who care about them other than their foster parents.
He also enjoyed watching the youth interact and seeing them smile.
"That’s what I’ll take away from today is the smiles," he said.