Aging out of foster care was probably one of the biggest life transitions I have experienced thus far. Although, I was educated on all of the resources that were available for me I allowed myself to think that if I dared asked for help, I was allowing the system to take credit for my success. It took me falling on my face to realize that it was okay to ask for help. Texas has quite a few resources that are beneficial when transitioning to adulthood/higher education. I want to talk about the top three that I think are the most important.
1) ETV - Education Training Voucher. ETV is a Chafee Grant that allows eligible youth to be awarded up to $5,000 per school year ($2,500 per semester). Youth who are eligible for ETV must maintain a certain GPA, be enrolled as a full-time student, and provide appropriate paperwork that shows there is a need for financial assistance. ETV helps pay for things such as books, room and board, transportation and much more. Texas is divided into regions and each region is provided with an ETV coordinator. Some ETV coordinators are over more than one region. ETV was beyond helpful in my college success. I was working two full-time jobs and attending school full-time. With the help of ETV I was able to have one full-time job and focus more on my studies. I would highly recommend taking advantage of ETV and all that it offers.
2) SIL - Supervised Independent Living. SIL is a voluntary way of staying in extended foster care. SIL is not a 24 hour supervised program. Youth who are eligible for SIL have an increased amount of responsibility and learn a variety of skills that help when transitioning to independent living. SIL helps with apartments, dorms, finances, groceries etc. Each youth is assigned a DFPS contracted provider that assist and ensures that all requirements are met. SIL is available for youth ages eighteen to twenty. When I was aging out of care SIL did not yet exist. I work with foster youth and SIL tends to be a huge help. Although, I did not have this resource I would encourage youth who are eligible to add SIL on their resource checklist.
3) PALS - Preparation for Adult Living Program. PALS consist of of six core elements that consist of learning a variety of skills/tools that can be utilized when aging out. Youth can begin taking PALS at the age of sixteen. At the age of eighteen and or at the time of transition youth who have taken PALS will receive a $1,000 stipend. This stipend is to be disbursed in increments of $500. Five of the six core elements must be completed to get the benefits. PALS also offers aftercare room and board for eligible youth. The amount is not to exceed $3,000, must be disbursed in increments of $500 per month and there must be a need. Additionally, if a youth take PALS they will receive the tuition and fee waiver that essentially covers the cost of college. When I was in care I thought I knew everything and didn’t need to take PALS.
Luckily, you didn’t have to take PALS to get the tuition and fee waiver at the time I aged out. I got a job my senior year and saved about $1,500. I knew I was going to college the proper way but had to fall down a few times before realizing there were some things about the real world I knew nothing about. I feel if I would have taken PALS I could have saved myself the damage from digging a hole. If I could turn back the hands of time I would have definitely taken the PALS course. In conclusion, I just want to display the importance of utilizing and taking advantage of the resources that are given to you. Like I mentioned earlier I always felt that CPS was out to get me and reaching out for help was only allowing them to take credit for my success. Now that I have wisdom and can look back on my journey with an open mind I understand the importance of not being scared to ask for help. These resources aren’t a handout for the experiences that foster youth have gone through but a way to beat the odds and excel to the best of our potential.