Transitioning out of childhood can be tricky for anyone, but transitioning from foster care to independent adulthood can be especially treacherous. Many foster care youths are considered ‘at risk,’ and their eighteenth birthday removes what little stability and security they have when they leave the foster care system.
The Community Foundation was asked by the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative to partner with local stakeholders to help improve outcomes for foster youth, and the Metropolitan Atlanta Youth Opportunities Initiative (MAYOI) was born.
MAYOI brings together true experts—young people who have been in or are still in foster care—to strengthen each other as individuals, even as they strengthen the system for other foster care kids.
Tarkiyah Melton was introduced to MAYOI while in a DFACS independent living program. “They offered classes like financial management to help you figure out what you needed in order to better yourself, and then they offered to match money you saved. I called them and started attending lots of classes. I started volunteering for them as an intern right out of college.”
“If not for MAYOI, I’d really have struggled to take care of my son. MAYOI gave me a stipend. I was going through tough transitions, and they supported me so that everything worked out well.”
“Then MAYOI started the EmpowerMEnt program and that became a big thing for me. They wanted input from foster youths about what issues to work on. The Medicaid crisis became one of the main areas of focus for us. You see, youth graduating from high school were automatically dropped from Medicaid health coverage at the age of 18. We felt that it needed to be extended further into adulthood, and MAYOI helped us learn how to advocate on behalf of ourselves directly to the state government. I am proud to say that we were able to voice our concerns and fight for what we believed in, and just last spring Medicaid was officially extended to cover foster youth through the age of 21 across the state of Georgia!”
“The Community Foundation molded me to be an advocate. They taught me how to use the power of my own voice to actually change legislation that affected me. We were tired of things not working right for foster youth and we needed to speak out. We were fortunate to have The Community Foundation behind us. And because my two mentors were so phenomenal, I learned how to help myself and others. They really motivated me. Now, when I go to youth events, I try to guide younger kids, be a mentor, share what I’ve learned.”
What’s next? “Because our reputation has become so strong, we’re now able to do even more. Now we’re advocating on other court issues: making sure youth are represented in the courtroom, making sure youth have input in their court cases so that it isn’t a matter of everybody’s making decisions about you but you don’t have any say. We’re talking with judges and other legal personnel, letting them know the importance of youth input during major transitions.”
Tarkiyah Melton had help in her transition. Now, through connections made through The Community Foundation and MAYOI, she is helping others. Along the way, she not only met powerful people, she became a powerful person.