Youth Villages Transitional Living program helps Otis prepare for life as an adult
What does it mean to grow up in the foster care system? Let Otis tell you.
“I came into foster care when I was born,” he says. “My mom gave me up. She is a drug addict.”
Otis spent his entire life in foster care, sometimes living with his three siblings.
As a young teen, he ran away once to find his mother in Missouri.
“She didn’t know that I was her son. She was drunk,” he says.
“My role is like being a coach for a sports team. I’m helping Otis learn the skills he needs to play the game well – in this case, the game is life”
– Tommy Sheppard, transitional living counselor
Otis made it on his own for a few months before turning himself in at a police station. He came back to the only home he’d ever known: the child welfare system. He was almost adopted once, but that fell through.
A few weeks before he was to turn 18, Otis sat down with his Department of Children’s Services case manager to go over his options.
One of his options was the Youth Villages Transitional Living program created in 1999 to help young adults like Otis who had grown up in the system. The program, founded with start-up funding by Memphis philanthropist Clarence Day of The Day Foundation, offers crucial support to young people aging out of foster care and state custody in Tennessee.
Studies show that without this support, young people who leave foster care are more likely to become homeless and unemployed, have trouble with the law and achieve lower levels of education.
In the 10 years that Youth Villages has provided Transitional Living services, we have helped more than 2,000 young people. Two years after leaving the program, 87 percent of TL participants are living independently, 75 percent report no trouble with law enforcement and 79 percent are in school, have graduated or are employed.
Otis was one of 800 young people helped by the Transitional Living program in fiscal year 2008. Counselor Tommy Sheppard helped Otis find housing, get a first job, enroll in school and apply for financial aid.
“My role is like being a coach for a sports team,” Sheppard says. “I’m helping Otis learn the skills he needs to play the game well – in this case, the game is life.”