(HELENA) The General Federation of Women’s Clubs of Montana (GFWCM) has set a goal of donating 200 duffel bags filled with basic necessities over a two-year period to the Montana Department of Public Health & Human Services (DPHHS) to benefit Montana foster youth who age out of care.
The group made their first donation of more than 20 bags to DPHHS on Friday at the Child & Family Services Division central office located at 301 Park Avenue.
Each bag is filled with a blanket, bar of soap, hair and dental supplies, spiral notebook, deodorant, luggage tag, pencil, pen, bath towel, wash cloth, and a water bottle. Intermountain Children’s Home supplied physical and mental health information.
Joyce DeCunzo, President of GFWCM, said her organization reached out to the DPHHS Montana Chaffee Foster Care Independence Program to identify a way they could help foster youth as they leave the system. The project, called YouthEquip, was identified as the organization’s President’s Special Project goal for the next couple years. “We really want to do all we can to support foster youth as they enter adulthood, and this is one way we know will make an impact,” DeCunzo said.
DPHHS Director Sheila Hogan said in a press release that the bags will be put to good use. “This is an amazing project, and we really appreciate the kind and thoughtful gesture,” Hogan said. “It’s important that our foster youth feel supported as they enter a very crucial time in their lives.”
Former foster youth Gabrielle Wheeler said she did not own many of the basic necessities when she aged out of foster care. She said this is a very difficult time for youth, and it’s support like this that can make all the difference. “It’s the basic necessities that are often overlooked,” she said. “I know the duffle bags and supplies will really come in handy for youth.”
Hogan said about 70 youth aged out of the foster care system during the most recent fiscal year.
Erin Kintop, of the Chafee Program, is working with DeCunzo to distribute the bags.
Kintop said youth in foster care face unique and difficult challenges as they turn 18 and leave the foster care system. The Chafee Program is intended to help Montana foster youth get the life skills they need to make a successful transition into adulthood. By assisting youth in achieving self-sufficiency and obtaining future goals, the Chafee Program enables youth in the foster care system to create a healthy lifestyle and a successful future. The program supports foster youth by offering assistance with obtaining a graduation equivalency degree (GED), high school diploma, volunteer experience, life skills and obtaining employment.
Kintop said stipends, including Education and Training Vouchers, are also available for youth ages 14 to 26 whose transitional living plans indicate they need help paying for:
- Secondary school educational expenses, such as tuition, tutoring, books, or driver’s education;
- Vocational training, including apprenticeships;
- Job readiness assistance, such as preparing a resume, buying appropriate interview clothing, haircuts, etc.;
- Travel costs to school or job sites; and
- Setting up a dormitory room or apartment, including purchase of furniture, kitchen supplies, deposits, etc.
The GFWCM is made up of 26 clubs with 600 volunteers around the state, who work to improve the lives of individuals in their communities. DeCunzo said the local clubs will be working over the next several months to raise funds in support of the project. The next goal is to put together 75 more bags by next spring and complete the project by spring 2020.
Anyone wishing to donate to the project is encouraged to contact DeCunzo at 406-439-0076 or email at email@example.com.
For more information about the GFWCM go to http://gfwcmontana.org/
For more information about the Chaffee Program go to https://dphhs.mt.gov/CFSD/FosterCareIndependence