Gift Of Love: A Program Preparing Foster Children For Adulthood - - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

04/03/04-Commerce, TX

Gift Of Love: A Program Preparing Foster Children For Adulthood

At any given time, there are about 2,000 youth, 16 years of age and older, in foster care in Texas. But what happens when they turn 18 and leave the system; leaving the only support some have ever known? We look at a Texas program that ensures these teenagers have the skills they need to be healthy, productive adults.

Three years ago, Traci Baker met Rudy, a Texas foster child. Today, she's helping him prepare for college where he wants to study architecture. "She does a lot for me and I appreciate it," says Rudy.

Traci helps Rudy through the states Preparation For Adult Living Program, otherwise known as PAL. As his PAL worker, she makes sure he's ready for life after high school. "I don't think of myself as their mother, or taking that roll, but more of the mentor, the aunt, the friend that they know will be there," explains Traci.

That friendship is special to both of them and Traci is very proud of Rudy. It doesn't take long to see it on her face. She says with tears welling up in her eyes, "He's a great guy. He's going to do big things cause he's got such a big heart. He's just such a great guy. He's got so many goals and he's planned for those for so long."

"Our focus is preparing them for their future," says Becky Brooks. Becky is Elizabeth's PAL worker. She's been in foster care almost seven years. Elizabeth says, "I think it's really important since my mom won't be there and I need that mom figure in my life and I know that PALs will be there. If I need anything at all, if I need a toothbrush, they'll help me go and get it." Becky adds, "Generally, as they get a little older they come to us for just about everything. Like for example, a lot of youth will leave care without a birth certificate or original social security card. We're the first person they call."

Preparing a youth for adulthood is much more than teaching them how to balance a checkbook or sign a lease. PAL workers also try to alleviate fears of the unknown. "I'm a little nervous because right now I don't have a job and I'm worried about the money and just finding somewhere to stay," says Elizabeth.

Despite a past full of neglect and abuse, Elizabeth is looking to her future. It's her life experiences that are driving her to go to college. She says, "When I was nine my little brother was born. My mom didn't really take care of him so, I was the one taking care of him. So, that's why I'm graduating late." It has prompted Elizabeth to study prenatal in college; making a difference in someone else's life. "It's nice to see them planning their own future and looking toward being a success in life," says Becky.

With Traci's help, Rudy is building on a solid foundation, ready to take on the world. "It's great to know there's somebody there to help you out," says Rudy. PAL workers give these youths skills and training, but most of all, they help them realize there are options, leading to a successful future.

Both Elizabeth and Rudy will graduate from high school in may and both are planning to attend college in the fall.

Gillian Sheridan, reporting.

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