A table of event coordinators sits outside an event room within McNeely Hall on the University of St. Thomas north campus. At the entrance there is a hurried exchange of words as someone dashes off in search of the knives that catering never brought. Within, ten or so tables seat social workers, St. Thomas social work students and curious citizens who have come to see what Connections to Independence (C2i) will bring to the table.
C2i is a nonprofit organization located in Minneapolis. Its main goal is to help children from the foster care system stay integrated within society and reduce the number of foster care graduates who end up incarcerated, utilizing homeless shelters, or with child protection cases of their own.
The event “Room at the Table: Foster Care and Beyond” intended to educate the public on the struggles of children and young adults within the foster care system and ways in which its methods could be improved.
Thomas Stone, a C2i beneficiary within the 18- to 21-year-old age bracket, is now at the stage in the program during which the focus is on helping the young adult get ready to become a full-fledged adult. Stone still harbors some ill feelings towards the foster care system, but he acknowledges what C2i is doing as good.
“I still hate the foster care system,” Stone said. “But they make it more understanding and they try to make everything work smoothly. You can’t change the whole foster care system with one program.”
Stone cites goal-setting as one of the most helpful aspects of the personal wellbeing component of C2i. He has achieved a lot since cultivating that habit, in addition to having chosen some possible career paths. He is hoping to either go into social work so that he can give back to improve parts of the system he thought were lacking, or go into something involving motivational speaking, which he loves.
Jessica Rogers is the executive director of C2i and considers the personal wellbeing component as something that sets her nonprofit apart. Rogers began to notice a pattern among the foster care children who were coming to C2i struggling and hurting and decided to add a piece focused on personal wellbeing to the program. A while later, she found out that this was what had been missing from many foster care systems around the country.
”There was a publication that came out–the Connected by 25 [blog by] the Youth Transitions Funders Group–that shows foster care youth need to develop social and emotional wellbeing and programs need to have a holistic approach,” Rogers said. “We’re already doing this work.”
Rogers will hold events like the one on November 7th again in the future and hopes to expand the reach of C2i as a whole.
“I was actually born in the foster care,” Rogers said. “I was blessed to be adopted as an infant. Until we were actually transitioning, I didn’t see this as my divine purpose. [Then] I thought I am meant to be here, this is what I’m supposed to be doing.”