By Justin Cox
Killeen Daily Herald
The evolution to adulthood has never been more difficult for young men and women transitioning from life as a dependent in school to life as an independent part of the work force.
Such a transition is challenging even under the best of circumstances. But for many youths growing up in foster care or those who have strayed from the ideal path into troubles with the law, their lives often are derailed once they reach independent status – a time when they no longer have access to the guidance and many other inherent advantages of a youth still in the system.
For these individuals, there is help, at least in Bell County.
On Tuesday, representatives from Central Texas Youth Services held the grand opening ribbon-cutting ceremony for its third Bell County branch of the Project Future Transition Resource Center. Located in the 200 block of North East Street in Belton, the new location will work in conjunction with similar locations in Killeen, in the 300 block of Blair Drive, and in Temple, in the 800 block of South Fifth Street.
The program is a collaboration by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, Texas Workforce Solutions, the Texas Workforce Commission and Central Texas Youth Services. It caters to current and former foster children between the ages of 16 and 25.
CTYS Deputy Director and Director of Counseling Steven Wick was on hand to introduce the program, along with representatives from the Belton Chamber of Commerce to introduce the community to the program's newest office.
"This program is very unique – it's one of five pilot programs in the state of Texas," Wick said. "The idea is to get them as independent and self-sufficient as possible, as soon as possible. They can literally come in off the street; we've got a shower facility, laundry facility, come in get their clothes clean. Then we can get them in job readiness and independent living skill training."
Wick said the program offers apartments for youths who have no home. This location is where they come when referred by other youth service organizations, or often probation officers when the kids get in trouble with the law.
"This is the gateway, if you will, for these kinds of services," Wick said. "Upstairs is a rec room, they can call this home, in a sense, get them toiletries they need. If they haven't eaten in a couple days, we can provide that for them ... these are all to get them back into our community."
Kami Diaz serves as program coordinator for Project Future, helping to assign the 12 to 13 youths currently part of the Belton program to individual classes throughout the month, which are posted on the wall in the entryway.
Diaz said the location is designed to be a way for them to escape the hassles of everyday life; the upstairs area is totally open to the design of the youths, replete with futons on the floors and graffiti on the walls.
Diaz refers people to individual case managers so the kids can get one-on-one help.
"We have classes once a week; I help build a curriculum to help them build healthy relationships, GED (aid), parenting," she said. "A lot of them get referred through different agencies, all the nonprofits refer kids to us – the Hope Pregnancy Center, probation ... the majority of our need is in Killeen, but anyone in the surrounding area, we can work with, but transportation can be an issue ... it provides an outlet. When they come here, they get an opportunity to connect with people who have been in their shoes."
Contact Justin Cox at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7568.