Adulting is hard—there’s little secret about that. For many kids, adulting skills are learned by watching their parents, taking on chores, and being given more responsibility—whether they like it or not. However, for those who have spent time in foster care or who are aging out of the foster care system, adulting can be a herculean effort, namely because they lack the support to be successful. According to the National Foster Youth Institute, 20% of kids who have aged out of foster care become homeless because they lack the support or skills needed to be successfully independent.
Crossnore School & Children’s Home is paving the way to change that disturbing trend in North Carolina. In 2021, they launched the Youth Independent Living program, a reinvention of programs formerly known as “Youth in Transition” and “Miracle Scholars.”
Sandy Sauer, the program director of Youth Independent Living, shared, “This is a program designed to help young adults between the ages of 16–26 learn the skills for independent living. While our 16- and 17-year-olds are still a part of the foster system, our program begins setting the stage, and we help prepare them for the transition ahead. And at age 18, when they transition out of foster care, we support them through the age of 26, which, statistics show, is the average age of many young adults before they leave home.
The program is uniquely structured, in that it allows for a supervised transition into adulthood. “We aren’t throwing these kids into the deep end, hoping they will figure out how to swim,” said Sandy. “We have designed a systematic approach that will enable them to make the transition gradually—teaching them how to budget, pay the bills, clean the house, do the laundry, grocery shop, cook a meal, and all the adult responsibilities that everyone needs to know.”
It starts with the application program. “Needless to say,” said Sandy, “while we would like this program to be accessible to all who want to participate, we also need our participants to be serious and willing to do their part. Participation in Youth Independent Living requires an application, an interview process, and a minimum of two references.”
“They must either be in school full-time and working part-time, or they must be working full time,” she continued. “We have limited housing options, including two semi-supervised apartments on the Crossnore campus for those who are 18 and older. We also have off-campus apartments, and in both situations, rent is covered on a graduated scale. Initially, 100% of the rent is covered by funds provided by the Department of Social Services, grants from the city and United Way. But throughout the program, the program participant graduates to paying 25% of the rent…. Then 50%… before finally taking 100% ownership of their rent payments. And even while they receive rent assistance, they are expected to pay for utilities and groceries.”
Sandy and her team have started with three active program residents. They have two in progress with additional applications coming in. “We have received a great deal of support and enthusiasm, but help is always needed. Namely, anything you’d need for an apartment –furniture, kitchenware, bath towels, etc.—we need. Gas cards help get participants to and from jobs and school. And of course, we also need resources and opportunities—jobs and job training from those who are willing to equip these young adults with a chance.
“Self-sufficiency is a learned skill,” said Sandy. “We aren’t parenting these residents at this point—we are coaching them on how to be adults. And by doing so, we are setting them up for success. This is an at-risk population—not only for homelessness but also sex trafficking. We want to protect them from that, and if we can give them the gift of stability—well, it takes a village. We need the community’s help.”
Crossnore School & Children’s Home is located at 1001 Reynolda Road in Winston-Salem. If you are interested in learning more about how you can support Crossnore School & Children’s Home, and specifically, the Youth Independent Living program, please visit online at Crossnore.org or call 336.721.7600. Please like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.