BRYAN, TEXAS — For those aging out of the foster care system, it can be hard to get on your feet, but one Brazos Valley nonprofit is working to assist with that part of their story.
What happens when you turn 18 and are in the foster care system? You either choose to stay in care or you "age out." How do you start over? What resources are out there to help you with a fresh start?
Unlimited Potential is a resource in Bryan, meeting individuals where they are who need an extra hand with their fresh start.
The nonprofit serves people who are between the ages of 18 and 25 who have aged out of the foster care system, including 19-year-old Kassandra Cerda.
"When I was in foster care, I was there from age 15 to 18 due to family problems. From there, after I aged out, I really didn't have anywhere to go. So I heard about this program, so I came over here from San Antonio," Cerda said.
Homeless at the time, Cerda heard of Unlimited Potential, an organization encouraging her to reach her full potential. She made the move in August.
"Unlimited Potential is what got me back on my feet. I had the motivation when I came over here. I was reassured I was going to have a place to stay, I was reassured they were going to help me move up. I had that confidence in this organization and with that confidence I have done a lot," she added.
In the past six months, Cerda has been able to get important documents together, like a social security card, and even apply for housing with the help of UP.
"With everything I have been provided, it's such an uplifter. I don't have to worry about a place to stay every day. I don't have to worry about where I am going to eat and when I am going to eat. They have really motivated me to move on with my life," Cerda said.
Aging out of the foster care system within the last year, the 19-year-old says Unlimited Potential has allowed her to start over with more help than she's ever had.
"When a young adult, 18, ages out of foster care or exits foster at that time, the statistics show that 20% will be immediately homeless, that only 3% will ever get a college degree in their lifetime and that by the age of 21, seven in 10 girls will be be pregnant and one out of two will have gainful employment by the age of 24. So we are battling these statistics the best we can to meet the kids where they are and to give them what they need," UP program director, Kate Mason said.
Battling those statistics, Unlimited Potential says they have served 24 young adults over the last year, but Mason says the pandemic has really affected day-to-day lives.
"Coronavirus and the COVID-19 pandemic really affected them with joblessness. Many lost housing, it was really a time where they could use the help with mentors, case management and the counseling we offer free of charge," Mason added.
Since 2019, UP has served as a support system for so many exiting the foster care system. The organization has an office in Bryan offering many amenities, including a laundry room, a bathroom, a kitchen, a pantry and a resource center.
"When kids age out, they don't have anybody. They don't have a family, they rarely have the support system that they need. So we are talking about an 18-year-old kind of put in the community to find their own apartment, to learn how to grocery shop. Some of the youth come to us and they have never done laundry before. So we provide those things," Mason added.
Mason says she admires watching participants grow and become the young adults they were meant to be.
She says they operate off of two large grants through the City of College Station and the City of Bryan as well as a tremendous amount of community and foundation support. Ultimate Potential is almost completely privately funded.
For more on the nonprofit, to apply to become a program participant or to donate time or funds to the program, click here.