Traverse City Record-Eagle

November 25, 2012

Foster kids get new direction


— TRAVERSE CITY - Krystal McGovern dreams of a nursing career, but the Traverse City resident's road to success may be a bit rockier than most.

McGovern, 19, was born to an abusive father and grew up in foster care. State and federal statistics indicate that background places her at a much higher risk for poverty as she tries to face the world on her own.

But McGovern is not deterred.

"I'm going to take whatever classes I need to succeed," McGovern said. "I want to be a nurse. I used to work taking care of people, and I really liked it."

McGovern found stability as she emerged from the foster care system, thanks both to her foster parents and an innovative program called Michigan Youth Opportunities Initiative.

That program seeks to increase the odds of success for foster care kids like McGovern by teaching them valuable life skills like budgeting, saving, setting long-term goals, and advocacy.

"We work to empower them and help them advocate for foster youth following in their path," said Joe Bagby, program coordinator for MYOI at the Department of Human Services in Grand Traverse/Leelanau counties.

MYOI is a program for foster care kids ages 14 to 21, and was developed through a partnership between the Michigan Department of Human Services and the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative.

It works by establishing youth boards consisting of foster care children who then seek community partnerships with professionals to offer training matters that range from housing to education, employment and health.

Such training helps prepare foster care children for living on their own, and it help them develop confidence, Bagby said.

"We rely on businesses and agencies to put on trainings each month for basic life skills," Bagby said. "Last month a car dealer taught our kids how to buy a car, and an insurance agent taught them how to keep their rates low. Prior to that it was housing. Next month we have two nurses talking about health issues."

McGovern said MYOI helped her immensely. She became involved in MYOI three years ago when she opened a savings account and secured a state ID. The program also taught her the discipline to save for a car. She recently bought a 1999 Chevrolet Cavalier on her own.

The car allows her to wheel to and from her job at Goodwill Industries of Northwest Michigan and to tutoring classes.

"I'm proud of myself, to know I could do that on my own," McGovern said of her car purchase. "I pay for my own car, my gas, my insurance, and my own repairs, unfortunately."

Charles Martin and his sister, Jessi Salmons, are in a similar situation. Both spent much of their youth in foster care because of a family tragedy, yet both believe they have bright futures.

Martin said MYOI helped him save and pay for a car that gets him to and from classes at Northwestern Michigan College. He's now dreaming of a career as either a chef or photographer.

"MYOI helps you get from foster care to independent living," said Martin, 23. "MYOI also helped me stay in school. That's the biggest thing it helped me with. I probably wouldn't be in college right now if it wasn't for MYOI."

Salmons wants to be a stay-at-home mom and care for her 8-month-old daughter Emmeline with her husband, Dakota, at their home in Buckley. MYOI helped Salmons and her husband save money during her pregnancy, cash that now pays for the young couple's rental housing.

She's also saved for books for college classes, and took asset training classes on finding housing and transportation.

"Having been in foster care, I want to be the best mom I can be," Salmons said.