As teens leave the foster system, they become some of the country’s most vulnerable population. They’re less likely to graduate high school, seek higher education or find long-term employment. Additionally, at least one out of four foster youths will end up homeless, forgo health care and require public assistance, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
Which is why Springfield, Mo., is launching a pilot project teaching customer service skills to young adults, ages 17 to 21, leaving the foster care system and looking to enter the workforce.
The Missouri Customer Service Partnership (MCSP), which is run out of the Ozarks Technical Community College (OTC), assists at-risk youths as they transition out on their own. OTC teamed up with the Community Partnership of the Ozarks to create a 10-week, intensive course, offered both in the fall and spring, with a year of a follow-up mentorship program. It’s one of two in Missouri; the other is run out of St. Louis Community College.
“This is a great transition. It’s a bridge to help them into the workforce and into higher education,” says Marilyn Madden, who coordinates the project. “We’re attempting to empower them to be active citizens regardless of their back-story.”
Throughout the 10-week course, a group of up to 15 youths receive help with resumes and interview skills, as well as job expectations and how to prepare for a career in retail and customer service, reports the Springfield News-Leader. The pilot also assists in job placement and gives students access to support from community and business leaders. After completion of the course, students earn four college credits.
For some teens, the course provides access to more basic needs, such as how to dress or find professional clothes for work or finding a safe place to live and way to commute to work.
“It’s all about connectedness so they’re not all alone,” says Amanda Coleman, community mentorship coordinator for the Community Partnership of the Ozarks. “They need someone to talk to and someone to point them in the right direction.”
The project, funded by the Missouri Division of Workforce Development and the Missouri Department of Social Services, cost about $120,000 in the first year. The first 10-week course began this past fall and of the 12 people who enrolled, 10 quickly found jobs, one relocated and the other is still looking for a full-time position.
“They have challenges they don’t choose,” Madden says.