April Carthorn, manager, Project NOW! partnership to help young people who are in transition from foster care to adulthood

Why are teens who age out of foster care so vulnerable?

The statistics say one in every three foster children who are released to themselves—without a permanent adult in their lives—is homeless within the first year of exiting custody. Some of the reasons why? Their biological parents may have lost parental and legal rights, and the foster placement may have been far away from family who don't have the resources to travel to maintain relationships. Some fortunate teens are adopted, but a higher percentage leave the foster home when they're 18 and the relationship ends. And they just take a big hit in education. Because of the many transitions, they get behind in school and usually don't get a high school diploma or GED. A lot just lose the will to think they can get it later; that in turn affects employment.

How does Project NOW! help?

It teaches financial literacy—the young people basically learn how to earn money, save money, how to invest and make money work for asset purchasing. We expect people to save $1,000 or more in a year and our initiative matches that on approved assets they purchase. If they wanted to start a mowing service, for example, the money could go to purchase the mower. Other examples are paying off old medical bills, or housing. We're definitely hoping to see young people purchasing homes.

How can the rest of us help?

We're hoping to find sponsors—Door Openers, we call them. We need sponsors to say, ‘We'll be able to expedite this service for you," or supply a service for free. We like free! And places like the Tennessee School of Beauty could donate a haircut if a person has an interview—we're not talking all just big stuff. Or movie tickets, some way they can have fun without alcohol and drugs and social pressure.

Have there been any eye-openers since the first group you held in March?

Probably the whole checking and credit system is where people seem to be the most disconnected, people not putting together that you have to save to spend. A lot are already in debt. But more shocking is we had two kids in groups who had bills in their names their parents had incurred—their parents had started ruining their credit reports years ago. One had a phone bill and utility bill in their name, and another had an apartment lease! They were having to fight to prove they'd been too young to be legally liable.

Former or current foster children ages 14-24 can learn more at child-family.org; potential donors should contact Carthorn at 865-256-2589 or acarthorn@child-family.org