GREAT FALLS — At the University of Providence, in a room temporarily converted into a fictional community called Independent City, around two dozen Montana foster kids practiced doing different things they may have to do in adulthood, like finding an apartment and paying rent, getting a job, and going to college.
As the kids gathered in the fictional city, they were greeted by the city's "mayor."
After a brief introduction, the kids were first tasked with using fictional money they'd been given to meet with someone playing the role of a landlord and get an apartment.
The event is part of a larger, two and a half day program organized by Reach Higher Montana for kids 16-19.
"So often, the foster youth are shifted from household to household or location to location an in those transitions a lot of times they miss the opportunity to build solid connections," Reach Higher Montana Programs Manager Steven Coop said. "So we want to work with them and build that connection to them so that they understand who, across the state, are invested in their future and are familiar with their opportunities."
Eighteen year old Jason Helgeson participated in the summit.
He entered the foster care system when he was six and has been to previous summits.
"I think every year I come back I learn more things and also get the opportunity to teach others about previous years and give other youth either the opportunity that I missed or just more opportunity," Helgeson said.
As of the summit, he was working and planned to go to college thanks at least in part to the summits.
"The summits and Reach Higher Montana helped me apply for college last year," said Helgeson. "They also have a lot of scholarship opportunities."
Coop said there are other stories of kids who have attended a summit and years later report having a lot of success in life.
"To know that what we're putting out there is usable to these students and that they can take that information and make something phenomenal for their life, nothing makes you feel greater than helping out youth who can use this," he said.
Reach Higher Montana holds these summits each year, two years in a row at each location. That means Reach Higher Montana will be back at the University of Providence for another summit in 2024.
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