"These foster youth are looking for consistency and permanent role models."
Retired Army major Jennifer Mann, 51, of Alexandria, VA, and her colleague, Ida Moss, noticed that foster youth were ill-prepared for independence once they "aged out" of the system, so she began teaching them bookkeeping and life skills so they could find and keep a job in order to support themselves.
What kind of philanthropic or volunteer work did/do you do?
Jennifer: I am an instructor in vocational bookkeeping and life skills. As a retired Army major, I have devoted my time to mentoring and educating foster youth about to be emancipated from the foster care system because they have reached the age limit. Child and Family Services does a superb and wonderful job with them, but we have noticed a significant number of them falling through the cracks; they just are not ready to embark upon self-sufficiency upon reaching 21 years of age. They are system junkies; all their needs were cared for, and some can't let go or don't know how to and are found continually begging for assistance from the system, relatives and friends, knowing they are too old and the umbilical cord has been forever cut.
We believe that this population needs to be weaned off the system and given more encouragement to gain more self-confidence before they can successfully do it on their own. Statistics today show that more and more young adults of all incomes are returning back home to live with their parents. When these young people go out and mismanage their little bit of money or encounter housing conflicts, they have no where to go. Many end up homeless, living in the streets or on waiting lists for welfare assistance or incarcerated. This is where we step in as a preventive measure. We offer them new job skills, good behavioral skills, life skills and employment. Most importantly, we tell them every time we meet them that we love them and care about them and give them the best advice we can in their day-to-day situations.
What is the name and location of the organization?
Jennifer: Based in Love Ministries, Inc., The Christian Vocational Academy, 1001 Connecticut Avenue NW Suite 1125, Washington, D.C.
Tell us about the project, especially who benefited from this work.
Jennifer: All students who attend our program benefit and leave with a renewed mind about themselves and their abilities. They look smarter because they learn about dressing for success. They talk smarter because we keep all of our conversations professional, and we practice how to talk and act in the workplace, and they even possess a new bookkeeping vocabulary. They say and understand bookkeeping jargon, are very familiar with QuickBooks accounting software and know how to pay bills.
What inspired you to get involved?
Jennifer: Ida Moss, our director, inspired me not to work for a major contractor across the street but instead to help the ministry. She did not ask me, but I saw the need. I knew that I could work for the government, making three times as much, but she decided to downsize her very successful accounting firm and go into ministry to help foster youth, and I watched her do it. I felt what she felt; this meant letting the big bucks go and doing God's work. One by one she let her accountants go to work for her clients permanently, and I came in full time without a stipend to help her start the bookkeeping program. We watched foster youth, afraid to be emancipated, prepare to live on the streets. It was so heartbreaking. We did not have the budget to help them so she took it out of her own earnings. Until this day we are still determined to find funds to help these youth.
How did you first get involved? Give us some details.
Jennifer: Idaís main office was up the street from my workplace, and every Friday they had a bible study with some great food. I came to like them very much. One day around Christmas, someone called our bible study group and asked if we could bring some gifts to a foster care center's Christmas party. We were a little surprised because none of us had ever dealt with foster youth. We gathered up a lot of gifts and went to the Christmas party. This was the beginning of our involvement. After the Christmas party they asked if we could come and share a bible study with them once a week, and we were elated to do so. This is how we came to know them on an individual and group basis, learned about their fears and watched some of them disappear into the streets, never to be seen or heard from again.
What is/was the best thing about your experience?
Jennifer: The best thing is broken into two parts. First is at graduation when they receive their bookkeeping certificate of completion; they are so glad that they finally completed something. Second is when they get that first job and paycheck.
What is/was the hardest part?
Jennifer: Primarily, keeping them encouraged while emphasizing during training that that they have to follow office protocol, especially in regards to punctuality, dress code and phone use, and that there are consequences for those who donít follow them. Secondly, getting through the job search waiting period. By the time some of them graduate from our program, they are only a few weeks away from emancipation and begin to panic about being homeless. I have brought an emancipated student into my home to help through this trying time.
What was the biggest surprise?
Jennifer: That some of our students have obtained good-paying jobs. We have one who earns $40,000 a year, another at $35,000, and several between $20-25,000. We were so happy for our $40Ker because he is a great inspiration and testimony to many of his foster peers.
What new things have you learned as a result of your experience and how have you changed as a result?
Jennifer: I have learned to understand this category of youth a lot better. They truly want to work and possess a piece of the American pie. They have learned to deal with depression, abandonment, abuse and fear with tons of hope. I learned to give them the "can-do" spirit and pep talks I gave to my soldiers and the same ones the Army gave me as a young soldier. I want them to know that everyone can make it if they get their mind and their priorities right, and that now is the time. It has taught me that these young people are looking for consistency and permanent role models.
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of getting involved in philanthropy or volunteering?
Jennifer: It is a very rewarding profession. If we all took a small part in making this world a little better, how much better could it be? I would guess a whole lot better. Rewards may not come monetarily, but they can certainly come in sincere hugs, thank yous, phone calls, kudos and smiles. I recommend everyone to try some form of philanthropy or volunteering because this way you will not only be able to see the differences being made firsthand, but you will be able to recognize and identify the areas that need your help, the community's help and the government's help. We all have to start somewhere. Make a positive difference in someone's life today, any way you can.
© Foundation Center
All Rights Reserved.