Former foster youth remembers ILP as a place where he felt accepted right away
During high school, I did not know anyone else who was in foster care. It was something that I did not want to broadcast, because I felt like I was the only foster kid at the school. But when I heard of the Independent Living Program (ILP), I felt like it was a chance to be around teens who may have gone through what I went through.
One day after school, a shuttle bus pulled up to my house. I walked outside, the sliding door opened and there they were: other foster kids, picked up before me, ready to head to ILP’s facility together. I felt happy before I even stepped onto the bus. Once I got in, it was the fastest I ever met friends.
ILP is a program that helps foster youth prepare for life after emancipation. They do this in multiple ways, by providing workshops, financial support, electronics, social dances, advice and connections to other foster youth. The thing I loved most about ILP was the number of opportunities it gave me. As a former foster youth, I can say opportunities did not come around too often.
The workshops were my favorite. They were different seminars with lessons that I was able to take and use in the real world. Every workshop I went to, they provided a lunch that was always good: pizza, tacos, burritos, hamburgers. Some of the workshops were more fun than others, but for the most part, they were informational and beneficial. One of the workshops I remember best was a financial seminar. They taught us about checking and savings accounts, financial aid and ways to build your credit. These were conversations I was not having with my foster parent, friends or teachers. ILP was giving me the information I needed to be ready when emancipation came.
In the beginning of every workshop, everyone was given raffle tickets. If you participated and answered questions, you were able to earn more tickets. At the end, we would have a raffle, and some of the prizes were just unbelievable: gift cards, MP3 players, radios, cell phones, laptops, backpacks. ILP made me feel like I had everything that parents give to their kids.
Financially, ILP was passing out money like allowances. I got paid for every workshop where I participated, learned and listened. As a foster child with no allowance or job, ILP gave me a way to make money and open that bank account we talked about in the seminar. I was able to pay for my prom suit, yearbook, food and clothes. I had a phone in high school, but one time, after going over my phone bill, I was cut off from my phone plan. ILP not only gave me money to pay for my phone bill, but gave me enough money to get another phone. It made me feel more independent, and that was something to be proud of.
Even though ILP was great, there were things that could have been done better. A few of the speakers had attitudes toward us, and there were times I did not know if they were former foster youth or not. Also, workshops sometimes felt like classroom sessions, and when you are out of school for the day, you just do not want to feel like you are going back.
Talking to my friends about foster care was hard. None of them were able to relate to what I was going through nor understand courtrooms, social workers or getting emancipated. ILP gave me a chance to meet other foster kids who were in the same county as me.
In the two hours I was at the ILP facility, I was having just as much fun with my foster peers as I did with the friends I had at school. To be around people who had been through what I had been through was a blessing. They shared the same experiences I had, and at that moment, I did not feel alone anymore. ILP even threw us our own prom, and it felt like it was meant just for foster youth. It was one of the most memorable nights I ever had in my life.
Thank you, ILP, for everything you did for me. I may not have money to repay you, but with these words, I give these roses.