When foster kids grow up and leave state care, they often have no one they can call when they get a flat tire, or are confused about how to rent an apartment, or just need a friendly ear.
A new effort launched Friday is intended to change that. A private organization, Alaska Community Services, is starting a mentoring program to match adults with teens in foster care to create bonds that continue after they age out of the system.
A foster kid advocacy group approached the Legislature with the idea. State Rep. Les Gara and Amanda Metivier, founder of Facing Foster Care in Alaska, looked into how to make it happen. Alaska Community Services stepped up and the state Office of Children's Services got on board.
The idea is that the pairings will last for years.
Alaska Community Services already runs a foster grandparent program, but it doesn't make one-on-one matches. The new effort will.
Many of the teens and young adults now involved in Facing Foster Care have already aged out and won't benefit personally from what they've helped create. But they said they want to see the system improve for others still in care.
"Basically it's just like one day everybody is there for you and the next day, you are on your own," said Slade Martin, 21, who left foster care just before he turned 19.
"I didn't understand what my credit score was. I didn't understand anything about how to find an apartment," Martin said at Friday's kickoff of the new effort. "I didn't understand ... how to find out who is scamming you and who is not." He said he wishes he had had a mentor to guide him along.
One 18-year-old said she's been homeless twice since leaving foster care in October. She could have used more support.
"There was awhile there where it was pretty bleak and I had no idea what was up and what was down," Candice Tucker said. She said she's doing better now. She has her driver's license and a car, is working two jobs, and is renting her own place.
Some 40 percent of former foster youth end up homeless at some point in life, said Gara, who grew up in foster care.
Alaska has about 2,000 children in foster care. While many will be reunited with their parents or adopted by other families, others never are. The state is their parent, until they exit care.
Foster parents may stay in touch for a while, but they often have new foster children who need their attention.
The Legislature didn't put any money into the new mentoring effort, so for now Alaska Community Services is taking on the role of screening, training and supervising the volunteers with existing staff. The volunteers will undergo background checks, said Rosemary Williams, who will be interim director of what they are calling "Mentoring Spirit."
Mike Saville, executive director of Alaska Community Services, said mentors will be "somebody that you can call when you need a shoulder and you can call when you need a little help with something." And, he said, they'll guide the teens along in the hopes of helping them become happy and productive adults.
OCS already has referred the first youth to the program, which will serve about 20 teens age 16-19 to start.
"I couldn't be more grateful to Facing Foster Care in Alaska because they are the ones that keep tugging and tugging -- along with Rep. Gara -- at our sleeves to improve the system," said OCS Director Tammy Sandoval.
Adults interested in becoming mentors can call 276-6472.
Find Lisa Demer online at adn.com/contact/ldemer or call 257-4390.
By LISA DEMER