Ready for Life
In 2007, the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay launched an initiative for at-risk youth. During its research, the foundation noticed the successes of Connected by 25, a Hillsborough County organization and initiative of the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Funded locally by the Eckerd Family Foundation, Connected by 25 has been very successful in helping young adults transition from foster care to independent adulthood. The foundation believed a similar organization could be formed in Pinellas County.
At a meeting, the Pinellas community was introduced to the issues foster youth face the day they turn 18. Most young people that age are still in high school or trying to obtain their GEDs, have limited life skills, and no clear plans for housing or employment. Yet on their 18th birthdays, they are expected to be ready to live as independent adults. With a clear mission and manageable goals, resources could be leveraged to help make a real and significant difference in the lives of Pinellas County foster youth.
Best practices learned from Connected by 25 were culled to form Ready for Life. Geography, transportation, and other issues in Pinellas County presented challenges different than those that Connected by 25 faced in Hillsborough County. In Tampa, Connected by 25 was housed in three buildings, but Ready for Life became an innovative virtual communications link between the youth and the resources available to assist them, which required only a small office with low overhead.
The website contains resources for education, employment, health, housing, legal, transportation, and life skills as well as an interactive space for social networking for the young adults. From inception, Ready for Life has involved youth in all aspects of the organization. Focus groups ascertained what they considered priority needs. Youth representatives sit on the board and each of the nine committees. Ready for Life's core belief is that success will come from connecting engaged, active community volunteers with the youth and their service providers.
Ready for Life enjoys a strong partnership with the lead agency for community-based care and more than 15 other service providers. The challenge and the real mission for Ready for Life is to create support from within the community to assist the transition process. Currently, more than 100 community volunteers serve on the committees addressing youth issues.
Ready for Life’s goal is to assist every Pinellas County youth aging out of foster care to better prepare for the challenges of independent living, connect them with an adult mentor, and give them a safety net should they be unable to surmount the hurdles in the journey to adulthood. With the help of local social service agencies and supporters, this innovative virtual approach has allowed Ready for Life to engage more than 625 youth since its inception in December 2008.