Fostering Connections St. Johns to hosts live auction for Career Readiness Academy

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Aubrie Simpson-Gotham, founder of Fostering Connections St. Johns, a local nonprofit supporting children in foster care and foster families, announced a Career Readiness Academy for FCSJ youth in partnership with The Kookaburra.

FCSJ will hold an online auction on Facebook to raise funds for the academy from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 28. The link to the auction is www.facebook.com/events/569698787062204

FCSJ is seeking business partners around St. Johns County and requesting items for the auction including gift certificates and gift baskets. Matching donations or cash donations are welcomed. Funds raised will support student internship salaries. Fostering Connections St. Johns will sponsor 50% of the student salary and businesses will provide 50%.

The three-week career and life skills course takes place on Aug. 15, 22 and 29 for teenagers and young adults ages 14-25 who are or were in the foster care system. Kookaburra’s warehouse will be provided to follow social distancing guidelines. A minimum of 10 students will be selected to attend from the St Johns County Family Integrity Program, St. Augustine Youth Services and Port in the Storm. Kookaburra owners Megan Vidal and Spencer Hooker, alongside their staff, will be providing the facility, course materials and leading the majority of the workshops to kick off the academy as other local businesses are being encouraged to follow their lead. With the support of a grant from The Community Foundation for Northeast Florida, students will have the opportunity to shop for work clothing at Target.

“Social distancing is not stopping foster care teens and young adults from chasing their dreams,” Simpson-Gotham said. “Now more than ever, it is essential that we provide essential skills to help our teens support themselves once they age out of foster care and are encouraged to pursue their life goals; going to college or trade school or exploring different job opportunities to see what a good fit is for them.”

The goal of the Career Readiness Academy program is to give teens and young adults in foster care the job training and mentorship to help them achieve their career goals. Students will learn basic life and career skills to secure their first job. After graduating the program, students have the opportunity to apply for paid internships at local businesses in a skill set aligned with their interests.

Skill-based training will include how to write a resume, how to apply for a job, interview skills, work attire and appearance, basic customer service skills, working with team members, and financial literacy. The students will have the opportunity to write a resume and learn customer skills alongside Kookaburra staff members at the end of the program, the students will have an opportunity to tour all Kookaburra shops and work alongside a barista in the shops. Students will graduate with a certificate and a binder full of tools to help them as they apply to jobs. Upon graduation, students will have the opportunity to apply for a paid internship at The Kookaburra. 

Now FCSJ is reaching out to get the community involved, namely local restaurants and small businesses to help secure additional paid internship opportunities for students. Fostering Connections St. Johns will be partnering with local businesses to provide work attire, haircuts and transportation such as bicycles for the students to help them be ready for their job search. The Community Foundation for Northeast Florida has provided a grant for students to purchase work clothing. Other options for involvement include giving an interactive presentation to students in the program, serving as a mentor, promoting the program through social channels or by inviting Career Readiness Academy students to speak at your business or civic club.

"Our objective with the career workshop is to impart job skills and knowledge upon youths in the foster system. We believe this will assist in developing self-sufficiency through gainful employment, community involvement, and income generation," Megan Vidal, co-owner of the Kookaburra shared.

Alicia Somers, Financial Wellness Manager for Regions Bank, will be leading a Basic Banking for Students class during the second session of the Career Readiness Academy. The one-hour course teaches young adults how to open a bank account, stick to a budget, use credit wisely, and how to start saving. Regions Bank will be helping students after the course with opening a bank account.

Serving through challenging times is what Fostering Connections St. Johns was founded on. The organization seeks to give all children in foster care the resources and supports they need to reach their full potential. FCSJ essentially fills the gaps by offering services and mentoring relationships that help children feel connected to their community and supported. 

Currently there are approximately 194 children in St. Johns County who are in foster care, up from 156 children in February. Within four years of aging out of foster care, 50% of young adults have no earnings. Those who do make an average annual income of $7,500.  These local youth in the foster care system are working to overcome heartbreaking statistics for foster youth nationwide. 

Of the 20,000 to 25,000 young adults nationwide age out of the foster care system each year, 20% become immediately homeless. Nearly 50% struggle with unemployment. At age 18, foster youth age out and have to immediately live independently, secure employment, apply for colleges and manage their finances. While many young adults have parents and family members to help them through this transition, most young adults who were in foster care have no one to come to for help.

The gap between foster youth and the general population is real. Only 46% of foster youth are employed at age 26, compared with 80% of the general population at age 26. Social capital, the personal relationships youth have with caring adults, can greatly influence their future employment opportunities.

“We want St. Johns County to lead the way for Florida to have the most supports in place to help all foster youth become happy, healthy, successful adults,” Gotham said. “Working together as a community, we can help each young adult achieve their goals.”

For more information on getting involved, contact Aubrie Simpson-Gotham at (904) 813-5809 or fosteringconnectionsstjohns@gmail.com. For more information on Fostering Connections St. Johns, follow it on Facebook at www.facebook.com/fosteringconnectionsstjohns. 

Photo provided by Fostering Connections St. Johns

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