Phasing in a new kind
of foster youth support
by Sarah Townsend
It’s a simple statement that drives the Phased In project. “We go all out, so they will be all in” is the key phrase used at the Wichita Falls, Texas transitional living program for youth who have emancipated from foster care.
In Texas alone about 1,200-1,500 youth are “phased out” of the foster care system each year, and about half of these youths will be homeless after their eighteenth birthday. Many of the teens will enter a life of drug or alcohol addiction or be incarcerated while many for the girls will become pregnant before their twentieth birthday. When Pastor Kile Bateman, founder and executive director of the Phased In Project, read the statistics for youth aging out of foster care, he asked himself what he could do to help.
Just after coming across the statistics, Bateman heard the story of one young girl in Los Angeles who felt like she had no chance after being “phased out” of the system. At the point, Bateman felt the call from God to help the foster youths who have no support after leaving the foster care system.
With the intent to assist young adults transition from foster care to adulthood, Phased In helps these youths learn basic life skills that will prepare them for living on their own. The youths enter into an 18-month program that provides housing, education, medical care and much more.
Bateman knew that this could not be accomplished with just his efforts, so he turned to his church community and found many members willing to help make his dreams a reality. Of these members, Troy and Sarah Mai have taken on a leading role in helping with the program.
The Mais were already familiar with the foster care system after adopting a child while living in Missouri. Troy’s military job eventually led them to Texas, where they learned about Phased In and knew they wanted to help.
Working alongside Bateman and other church members, the Mais were given the opportunity to be the house parents for the men’s dormitory and jumped at the chance.
“We are basically Mom and Dad to them, Aunt and Uncle to some,” Sarah Mai said. “We are job coaches and mentors. We assess who comes in and teach them how to cook, how to grocery shop, how to do their laundry, how to change oil, how to find a job and apply for a job — everything they need to know to become independent. Whatever need arises, we are here to help them.”
Being in direct contact with these youths gives Mai an inside view of the changes that occur in the youths who go through the program. She sees the youths change from scared kids, to healthy adults.
“I would say the best part is seeing that switch flip; seeing the kids understand that there are people out there who will love them and that they can trust. To see them know that there are people out there that care. To see them regain the ability to have healthy relationships,” Mai said.
For youths who want to take part in the program, there is an interview process that they must go through to be accepted. Phased In is working on publicizing the program to encourage more youths to apply.
“We have a great relationship with the state of Texas, we work very hard to educate case workers about Phased In,” Mai said. “There is a lot of word of mouth about us between caseworkers, and we do lots of tours where they can come and see the facility. This summer we are doing a tour of the state to go to aging out seminars and teen conferences in each region of the state of Texas.”
After the youths graduate from Phased In, the Mai family knows they will always be connected to the youths, but they want to connect them to someone else in the community too so they have somewhere to go for holidays and other important events. The Mais helped to launch a mentor family program that connects youths with families who help them even more after they have left the program.
The goal for the Phased In team is that everyone will leave the program with a connection to a caring adult.
“We also are working on a family reunion with the graduated students,” Mai said. “Just to spend time with the kids who have graduated. We are really just one big family. That’s a big part of our program. We want to be a family.”
Phased In not only works to be a family for youths who have not had a stable living situation, but the program also strives to help youths for a longer period of time.
“We are the only program in Texas that keeps kids as long as we do,” Mai said. “There are lots of places that will refer them, but not give them a place to live for as long as we do. We are also different because we take kids from all regions.”
Mai believes Phased In is giving the youths a support system that they can rely on when times get tough.
“We all have connections, where we can call to help us, these kids don’t have the connections,” Mai said.
Phased In has brave goals set out for the next few years. The facility includes five buildings on a large plot of land in a residential area of the city. There is a brand new men’s dorm, a house parent house and an education center that is being renovated. The other two buildings are slated to be torn down in order to build a women’s dorm that will accommodate women with children as well, and another house parent house. The program is also fundraising to put in a basketball court and a serenity garden.
The expansion is not only happening in Wichita Falls. Phased In leaders hope to have another girl’s dorm up and running in Dallas within the next year. Bateman also has plans to meet with a Brazilian pastor to talk about the possibility of beginning a Phased In program in Brazil.
Mai counted 12 youths helped so far in two years, and the program only plans on growing to assist more. With the expansion projects in motion, within the year Mai said she hopes that the program can help more women and men find a family.
“(We should) not judge a book by its cover and give these kids an opportunity. When you think about foster care, so many people see the kids in scraggly clothes, and these kids need love too,” Mai said. “No one should judge them just because they are rough around the edges. If you had lived in 15 different homes through your childhood you would be a little rough around the edges too.”
For Mai, each child who comes through the program is an opportunity for her to change a life. She said she hopes each one of them learns something and takes away important skills from the program.
“We need to give them a chance, because underneath all that, there is so much goodness,” Mai said.
To get involved, volunteer or donate to the Phased In program, visit phasedin.org.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Sarah Townsend is a communications major at Chadron State College. She is the news editor of the college’s newspaper, The Eagle. She has a passion for reading and writing, and aspires to be successful in the communications world after college. She also runs cross-country and long-distance track races for Chadron State. In her spare time, she loves to be outdoors and be active.
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