Mentor Me: Cincinnati Works service aims to help young adults aging out of foster care

'We want to empower them'

These days, Destiney Larkin is a well-dressed 21-year-old with a full-time job, her own apartment and a car.

But not long ago, she was struggling. She had spent years in and out of foster care, with social workers drifting in and out of her life. She graduated from high school but left Shawnee State University during her freshman year, unhappy with her roommate and her college experience.

“I pretty much was becoming a couch potato,” she said. “I didn’t really want to do anything.”

That changed when Larkin met Susan Brewer, a retired saleswoman on a mission to change the life of a young adult aging out of the foster care system.

Brewer had trained with the local nonprofit ProKids to become a court-appointed special advocate, or CASA, for a foster child. But she was living in two different cities at the time and realized she wouldn’t be able to take on that role.

Instead, Brewer, an alumna of Chi Omega, convinced the sorority to fund her efforts to mentor Larkin.

Their relationship blossomed into Mentor Me, a program founded by Brewer and Jody Canupp to match young adults aging out of foster care with mentors to help them navigate the choppy waters of self-sufficiency. Mentor Me became a service of Cincinnati Works, the downtown-based nonprofit, in 2013. Brewer serves as Mentor Me’s coordinator, and Canupp, who also owns Hamilton-based Jojo’s Cupcakes and More, is team supervisor. Both work as volunteers.

“We connect them with any resource they need, and we act as a Band-Aid if there is no resource,” Canupp said. “The funds are allocated based on need.”

The needs of young adults aging out of foster care can be staggering. Sometimes they need money for rent, food or work-appropriate clothing. Other times they need help with cell phone bills, transportation to get to work or furnishings for their first apartments.

“The mentor works with them to get them to self-sufficiency,” Brewer said. “We do not want to enable anyone. We want to empower them.”

Young adults aging out of foster care are particularly vulnerable.

A comprehensive study conducted in 2007 by the Chapin Hall Center for Children at the University of Chicago found that:

• Nearly one-quarter of young adults aging out of foster care did not have a high school diploma or GED by the age of 21.

• About half were unemployed at that age.

• More than 70 percent of the young women in the study reported having been pregnant by 21, with most having been pregnant more than once.

• And 77 percent of the young men in the study had been arrested by the age of 21.

Brewer learned about all those statistics as part of her CASA training. She and Canupp were committed to making sure Larkin didn’t follow that same path.

Insiders can read more about the relationship that Brewer and Larkin formed and how it helped Larkin. Insider also can read about three other Mentor Me volunteers and the young adults they are mentoring.

For more information about Mentor Me, click here or go to cincinnatiworks.org and look for Mentor Me under “Services.”

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