BUCKS COUNTY - According to statistics, Chris fought and won the battle against the odds when he aged out of foster care. He is not homeless, unemployed nor incarcerated, and he did not drop out of high school. In fact, Chris has a stable career in technology as an analyst for JPMorgan Chase. He considers it “kind of a miracle” that he landed where he is now, but his miracle involved resiliency, tenacity, incredible hard work and a series of mentors who were all on his team.
Nearly half of Pennsylvania youth in foster care age out and find themselves unemployed for at least four years because they do not finish high school and/or they suffer from mental health issues that preclude them from functioning normally and managing their lives.
For Chris “aging out was chaotic ... I went from being a junior in high school to living in an apartment alone.”
Chris was referred to the R.J. Leonard Foundation by Montgomery Children & Youth. The RJLF is an organization that provides scholarships and mentorship to young adults who have aged out of foster care in Bucks and Montgomery counties. Chris was matched carefully with a Mentor who shared similar values and professional and personal interests. Their relationship was based on their shared love of creative writing, but also on Chris’ fierce desire to learn new things and push himself to the maximum in order to create the life he wanted. Lela provided a non-judgmental, kind and caring platform upon which Chris could form his ideas and plans, and they subsequently worked together to explore a career in technology, his secondary interest. The RJLF introduced Chris to a competitive software development program, advocated on his behalf, and trained him in interviewing techniques during the admission’s process. In addition, the foundation provided Chris with a grant and interest-free loan that covered his living expenses so he could focus 100% on the training. After 12 grueling weeks Chris graduated and so impressed the corporate recruiters at J. P. Morgan Chase, that they hired him on the spot!
Thirteen other young adults have been supported by the R.J. Leonard Foundation’s program, which is unique in that it customizes each individual grant and scholarship based on specific goals. Those goals are the focus of the Fellow-Mentor relationship, however, short-term obstacles and struggles are managed on a daily basis, ensuring that everyday stumbling blocks do not derail progress towards self-sufficiency. “A flat tire or bungled financial aid form should not cause the loss of a job or college class,” says Kathleen Kasper, Senior Director of the RJLF, “so every Mentor is acutely attuned to the well-being of their Fellow. That’s what makes us so unique.”
Chris’s experience with foster care was “mostly negative ... A government system will never, ever, be able to replace a family and community.” Chris told us. The R.J. Leonard Foundation is proud to share that Chris has been living free of government assistance for one year, is about to be married and is loving his independence and life.
The R.J. Leonard Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that educates and mentors young adults aging out of the foster care system in Montgomery and Bucks counties. RJLF’s scholarships and mentoring program are described in detail at rjleonardfoundation.org.