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Group to connect foster children with mentors

Rather than go hungry, Logen Miller said, he scavenged for food from neighborhood trash cans.

Inside his foster home, he said, he was surrounded by drugs and alcohol. He was neglected and underfed. A few months shy of 18, he ran away.

“On paper, I looked like I was the worst kid in the world,” he said. “I was on multiple drugs and all sorts of stuff. I had very aggressive behavior. I was a runaway risk and I would hit things, put holes in walls, throw chairs, all sorts of stuff.”

Logen is more stable now because he was referred to WAY Alliance, a nonprofit that had not launched officially. Founded by Joy, who lives in Aubrey, the nonprofit is working to help change outcomes for young people aging out of the foster care system.

“A relationship with a caring, supportive adult has a domino effect on the youth in terms of helping them develop self-esteem,” Joy said. “It’s almost like the catalyst in positive outcomes for youth and it all starts with that relationship and building trust.”

A full-time graphic designer, Joy registered WAY Alliance as a nonprofit last year. She recruited board members with experience in the child welfare system, including three former foster parents, two former court appointed special advocates and a licensed therapist with more than 20 years’ experience.

The nonprofit will match young people aging out of the foster care system with mentors. Through resource coordinators, it will help them access education, housing and other basic needs. It will also help them think about careers and provide them with life skill training, Joy said.

This month, the first cohort of mentors and coordinators will train in preparation for matching. The goal for the next few months is to reach at least 10 young people. The training for the second cohort is set for September.

“We want our second cohort to be even larger to be able to serve more,” Joy said. “We will obviously take what we learned from this first cohort and try to make this even better.”

For the first matches made through WAY Alliance, the nonprofit is focusing on young people who have already aged out of foster care. After proving its programs work and negotiating with child welfare agencies regarding referrals, the nonprofit will seek out foster kids under 18 years old for matching.

There are more than 2,400 young people in the 14 counties making up the WAY Alliance’s focus area who could potentially use its services, Joy said. More than 250 young people in the area age out each year.

Youth in foster care often experience neglect, exposure to drugs, abuse and other issues, Joy said. They are more likely than the general population to experience homelessness or incarceration. They are less likely to finish high school or earn college degrees. Young women are more likely to have given birth by the time they reach 21, and they are more likely to experience sex trafficking.

The most common factor for children who develop resilience is having at least one stable, committed relationship with a supportive parent, caregiver or other adult, according to Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child.

In a potential WAY Alliance mentor, Joy is looking for “somebody who is not judgmental, who listens very well, who will meet the youth where they are.”

Those interested must attend an information session, fill out an online application, and consent to interviews and a background screening. They will be asked to commit to spending at least eight hours with their mentee per month, Joy Miller said.

WAY Alliance secured funding to operate in 2019 through friends and family. A Giving Tuesday Facebook fundraising campaign drove in more than $3,000 in donations, Joy said. The nonprofit’s expenses are mostly limited to the cost of providing background screenings. But to serve as many young people as possible, it will eventually have to hire staff.

When Logen ran away from his foster home for the last time, his court appointed special advocate connected him with Joy. After hearing about his situation, she drove with her husband, Jeff Miller, a member of the Aubrey City Council, to Red Oak to pick him up.

Provided permission to help Logen with housing, the Millers got to know him. They saw something special in him, Joy said. Despite spending time in juvenile detention and at a treatment center, for instance, and despite experiencing abuse and neglect, he graduated high school with a 3.6 GPA.

The Millers adopted Logen, and he is living with them.

He recently started working at MOMs on Main Street. Because he is not enrolled in a college program, he has agreed to pay the Millers $300 in rent.

Now, he is receiving unconditional love for the first time in his life. On antidepressants and bipolar medication since he was 11, he has weaned himself off. And though he still has some lingering anger issues, he has short-term goals, such as earning a driver’s license, and long-term goals, such as following a career in woodworking.

Where would he be without the Millers and WAY Alliance?

“I’d be on the streets,” Logen said. “Maybe even worse, dead.”

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