Youthville changes name, broadens focus

Nickaila Sandate has noticed something about the children who age out of the foster care system.

Sandate, the senior vice president of programs at Youthville, said that the second they turn 18, most former foster kids want nothing more than to say goodbye to the “system” and never look back. Youthville, a Wichita-based nonprofit organization, currently serves 540 foster children.

“They don’t want to have anything to do with us,” Sandate said, then she paused.

“But give them three to six months, and they’re calling us regularly. We’ve seen it over and over again with the thousands of kids we’ve worked with.”

Sandate, Shelley Duncan, the group’s president and CEO, and the rest of the staff at Youthville have come up with what they hope is a solution to the problem: one-on-one weekly sessions with a life coach for kids who have aged out of the foster care or juvenile justice systems, or who are otherwise “at risk.”

The coaching sessions are a part of a new donor-funded program called STRIVE. Around the same time they came up with this idea, Duncan said they thought about changing the agency’s name to reflect its new focus.

Youthville conjures up an image of a protective haven for young people. While Duncan said the group will continue to offer residential treatment at its facilities in Dodge City and Newton, she said they want to do more to help young adults learn how to function in their communities.

That’s why Youthville is changing its name to EmberHope, Duncan said. With the name change, she said she hopes to signify the organization’s desire to change communities, rather than just shelter youth.

The group will still use the name Youthville to describe its collection of child-focused programs and services: foster care and residential treatment. Youthville will be one of three program divisions within EmberHope; the other two will be counseling services and the new STRIVE program.

Duncan said EmberHope’s community-wide focus will reflect a new reality she and her team have encountered: Many of the children with whom they work have had severe childhood trauma experiences. That’s especially true for the girls in Youthville’s Secure Care facility in Newton. It serves girls ages 10 to 18 whose chronic runaway behaviors have led a judge to label them “Children in Need of Care,” a designation that requires them to spend time in a secure setting.

Angel Garcia, an assistant supervisor at the Secure Care facility, said that many of the girls end up there after they attempt to run away from their foster homes and return to their original families.

The girls often have a difficult time transitioning from Youthville’s highly-structured environment to their homes and communities, Garcia said. Many of the girls return home and continue to struggle with drugs and alcohol. Some have a hard time staying in therapy. A few end up back in Secure Care and some return to the streets.