The Aged-Out Foster Care Youth Home the Community Built
The Optimist Club of Twin Falls, Inc. (Club) recognized a need within its community regarding youth who were ill-prepared for life on their own, and their potential for homelessness. The Club embarked on what has become an amazing and heartwarming journey. A journey that is still unfolding, one filled with love, compassion, encouragement, hopefulness, and community-wide cooperation.
Youth aging-out of the Foster Care System were typically not finishing high school and headed to homelessness and/or incarceration within two years.
In addition, Foster Care Youth typically do not learn the basic life skills so necessary to determine success as an adult. They rarely possess a driver license, employment experience, or even the simplest of skills such as doing laundry or cooking, not the the least of which is a place to live. Aging-Out Foster Care Youth, when they turn eighteen, very quickly fade into the fabric of society. Statistically, they have not done well. The communities in and around Twin Falls are changing that.
The journey started in 2012 when the Executive Director of CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) told Barry Knoblich, a member of the Club, about a young man sleeping in a car. The young man had aged-out of Foster Care at eighteen and didn’t have any place to go. Barry felt the Club needed to look into this. As he started to explore this issue, he found out right away there were some services out there for these youth but what they really needed was a place to live.
Starting with $20,000 the Club had acquired by selling a car they won by purchasing raffle tickets for a fundraiser held by the local High Schools, the Club Board of Directors voted to earmark the $20,000 as seed money for an Aged-Out Foster Care Youth House and started reaching out to local agencies to identify the scope of the need. The statistics where staggering, alarming, and relatively unknown to the members of the community these youth resided in.
The magic of the community, the people of Idaho refer to as the “Magic” Valley, took over following the initial outreach. Individuals, agencies, businesses, the City of Twin Falls, Twin Falls County, other civic organizations, clubs, and churches of the Magic Valley all came together to work on providing a much needed transitional home for Aged-Out Foster Care Youth.
A conversation with County Commissioner Jack Johnson, also a member of the the Club, led to the identification of a house set for demolition owned by Twin Falls County. The house was in an ideal location and fit perfectly within the identified needs of a house for Aged-Out Foster Care Youth. Following this clandestine conversation at a Club meeting, the house destined for demolition is now being leased for $1.00 a year.
Major remodeling was needed to make this old house a home for youth, who for various reasons, didn’t have one to claim. The magic arose again as the Club began to reach out to the community for volunteers, materials, and donations. As word made it around the community, individuals, businesses, civic organizations, churches, and clubs reached out to offer their assistance. Many people, when they find out what is going on with the house, their hearts are touched and they want to help any way they can. The amount of genuine interest and compassion was overwhelming. The saying, “If you build it, they will come” comes to mind. If we needed something or someone, they would walk through the door, offering to redo the roof, install a new heating system, or donate materials, labor, and/or money. It felt a bit like a snowball rolling down a hill, picking up speed, and taking the Club and the Youth House along for an amazing, wonderful ride.
The story of replacing the roof is a great example of the magic within our Community. Barry contacted Rainguard Roofing’s owner, Shae Mayner. Shae came over and measured the house and told Barry it was going to be expensive and difficult. As Shae was leaving, as it was snowing that day, he rolled up his window, shut off his truck, jumped out and asked what this was for. Barry explained it would be a home for youth that have aged-out of Foster Care. Barry asked if Shae knew anything about foster youth. Shae replied “Yes, he and his wife used to be Foster Parents”. Barry asked if they were not any longer and Shae replied “No, they had adopted them.” From that initial conversation, Shae became one of our major donors and donated a brand new roof.
Almost everything needed to remodel the house has been either donated or discounted. There have been very few things the Club has had to pay full price for. This generous outpouring has been happening from the very beginning and is continuing on to this day. Contractors have been magnificent and have made a difference in what we have been able to remodel in the house. The volunteer portion of this house was another huge, huge donation. All of the demolition and pre-work was completed solely by volunteers. The Youth House is truly a community project.
After months of demolition, revised building plans to meet codes, bumps, bruises, and tons of demolition and remodeling, the two story house located at 239 3rd Ave N, in Twin Falls, Idaho, officially known as the Twin Falls Optimist Youth House (Youth House), is now open as a home for Aged-Out Foster Care Youth. The Youth House can accommodate six males on the second floor, six females on the main floor, along with Resident Advisors on each of these floors.
The basement, in addition to housing a training room and laundry facilities, also has rooms for females who have progressed to living independently without the need of a Resident Advisor.
A separate 501(c)(3), Twin Falls Optimist Youth House, Inc. has been set up to provide management of the day to day operations of the Youth House. The Board of Directors (Board) of this organization consist of subject matter experts and business leaders from our community who are all passionately concerned about this project and assisting youth in our community.
The Board has developed an operational plan encompassing a two year transitional program to take the role of what has been missing in the lives of these youth: somebody who cares, somebody who is willing to be a good example, somebody willing to be a mentor to them, to provide those things parent may take for granted as to what is naturally provided to a child.
The first year’s operating funds have been acquired, and the Board is beginning to embark on fundraising to provide for future operational expenses. A Female Resident Advisor lives in the home, in addition the first two Aged-Out Foster Care Females now have a home and a transition plan in place to give them the support, guidance, and skills needed to become successful and thrive as active members of our society. The second floor is still under construction, but already has Aging-Out Foster Care Males waiting to move in. The dream has become a reality.
Barry remembers a conversation he had with a young man in the Foster Care System who had come down to view the house. The young man was overwhelmed at how many people were working at the house and he commented he couldn’t believe so many people cared about them. These kids have already had a tough time. So the Club wants this portion of their life to give them a boost and a good start so they can be not only be successful as adults, but they may go on to become leaders for our community. Our hope is that other communities will see what has been done in the Twin Falls area and copy this model.