According to Eliada President & CEO Mark Upright, “Most of these kids have bounced around from one foster home to the next throughout their life and they lack the resources to care for themselves upon turning 18. They come to us with a backpack of belongings and we set them up in an apartment right on our campus, complete with all that they need. Then to truly help them succeed, we teach them a trade and help them build life skills.”
Since the program began, Eliada has learned even more about this unique group of young adults. Past students experienced more than 6 placements in foster homes or group care, half had criminal involvement, less than 25% had a high school diploma, and representative mental health diagnoses of the students included substance abuse, thought disorders, conduct disorders, and major depressive disorder.
ESTA works to counteract these potential risk factors by providing students, ages 17-21, with basic needs like housing, clothing, and food. But it’s the program’s other components that are really capable of changing the course of these young adults’ lives.
According to Eric, ESTA’s 2nd year student, “Without this program I’m not sure what I would have done with my life. Being here has opened so many opportunities for me.”
The ESTA program currently teaches culinary skills to the enrolled students, all of whom also earn money working in Eliada’s cafeteria and in community-based internships. Students have worked at HomeGrown, Pasta Fasta, Chestnut, Nona Mia, Deerfield, and Biscuit Head, getting the hands-on restaurant experience that will lead to permanent job placements at program completion. Classes at Eliada address job training from every angle including computer training, career building, and even etiquette. Debby Burchfield, the Director of Asheville School of Etiquette, works with the ESTA students on etiquette techniques that can benefit them in professional settings.
“I teach the students social etiquette such as introductions and greetings, projecting a positive image, as well as common courtesies. Knowing when to make a call or when to send a letter are important skills that can make a big difference, especially when looking for a job,” says Burchfield.
The etiquette class is a part of a larger creative curriculum in which students prepare for careers by practicing resume writing, interview skills, how to search for job openings, and how to professionally network in the community. Currently, students are working on a “Dream Job Project” where they research companies, read job descriptions, determine pay ranges and cost of living requirements, and learn more about education and experience requirements for the dream job they are interested in. They practice public speaking by creating “commercials” marketing their strengths. Students have also used an “interest inventory” to help them connect their interests with potential careers.
Upright says that currently, Eliada has scholarships available for female students in ESTA, and is accepting applications for those openings. The application is available at www.eliada.org.
ESTA is helping to fill a gap for teens aging out of systems-of-care in North Carolina. Overall, young people aging out of care are more likely to suffer from untreated health and mental health problems, 25% are incarcerated within two years, and 66% have not finished high school or obtained a GED by age 19. (Data: National Foster Care Coalition). The National Association of Social Workers reports that fewer than 3% of former foster youth will achieve a college degree, and over 25% will be homeless within three years of leaving care. It has also been found that 50% of those within 1 ½ years of leaving foster care are unemployed.
Students use their time in ESTA to build academic skills, vocational skills, and life skills so they can transition to adulthood with knowledge, confidence, and an enthusiastic work ethic. As the program grows so will the number of students. Eventually the ESTA program will have an enrollment of 65, proving these youth the opportunity to work towards self-sufficient adulthood in a caring and loving environment.