Spotlight on Care4U: Setting Teens Up For Success As Adults
A federally funded program in east-central Illinois aims to equip young people for a successful transition into adulthood.
The program, called Care4U, is a partnership between Illinois State University in Normal and high schools across Champaign-Urbana.
Care4U is geared toward people ages 15 to 24 who are facing adversities, such as food scarcity, poverty, homelessness, parenting or pregnancy during adolescence and involvement in juvenile justice or child welfare systems. It’s funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The program, which launched in 2016, teaches essential life skills through weekly group discussions with trained facilitators. The two-semester curriculum focuses on healthy relationships, job readiness and financial literacy.
Project Director Ani Yazedjian, an associate provost at ISU, said one of the most valuable aspects of Care4U is that students form relationships with adults they feel they can trust.
“Our focus group data say that our facilitators are not judgmental, they create safe spaces, they give people an opportunity to speak and engage in conversation rather than just listening or being told information,” she said. “When a student doesn’t show up, the facilitator reaches out and says, ‘Hey, I noticed you weren’t there. You were missed. You’re a valuable part of our group.’”
Yazedjian said she is hopeful this approach helps students who may not have a stable or consistent family or home environment.
About 100 of the 230 students who participated this year will take advantage of part-time summer job opportunities or receive tuition reimbursement for classes at Parkland Community College.
To learn more, Illinois Public Media spoke with Care4U’s program manager, Kellie Anderson.
The following interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
What is the Care4U program all about?
The first semester we work with them on healthy relationship dynamics, using the “Love Notes” curriculum from The Dibble Institute. The second semester we do half workforce readiness and half financial literacy. So they're really skills that could lead a person to have a more satisfying life as an adult.
Research shows that there are three things that an adult would say makes them feel successful or happy with their life: healthy relationships at home, a job that is fulfilling and rewarding, and then having the financial means to take care of themselves and their family. And so, our program kind of gives young people the foundation of how to do those three things when they are adults.
Who is the program designed for?
The official documentation uses the phrase "at-risk youth," which I personally don't like, because I feel like it identifies students right off the bat as being a problem. Most of our targeted audience are youth with some risk factors in their lives.
However, I think that every teenager has risk factors. Even kids who seem to come from very healthy home backgrounds can have mental health issues. Our program is really open to any student who's interested and we don't turn people away.
How did you all decide to focus on healthy relationships with this program?
The grant is a federal grant, and it's part of the Healthy Marriage and Responsible Fatherhood initiative. Many young people come from family backgrounds where they may not have witnessed a healthy, committed relationship. They come from families where there may be abuse happening, or just some kind of unhealthy way of relating to another person.
So, the focus is first to help the young person think about themselves, their personality, what's important to you in a relationship, what's a deal-breaker for you? Teen dating violence is a thing, and there are more young people who are involved with a violent relationship than most adults would imagine.
And so we teach them things to watch out for in another person.
What kind of feedback have you heard from young people who have gone through the program?
The feedback has been fantastic. We've had students who've told us that they have ended unhealthy relationships, we've had students and parents tell us that their relationships at home are happier. Part of what we teach is good communication and conflict-resolution skills. We've had students who have told us: I tried this with my sister and it worked. Or: I've done this with my mom. Or the mom will say: I've just noticed a difference in how they react or respond to situations. Students who do job interviews have said: I did so much better than I thought I would, because they felt prepared.
We love seeing how they connect with their facilitator, they build relationships with them. And we tell them: Once you've done our program, you'll always be a part of us.
So, we have kids that let us know if they get kicked out of their house and they need help finding a place to stay. We've had kids who've let us know if there's a pregnancy and they need help with resources. They stay in touch with their program facilitator because they feel like this is another adult who they can really trust to come alongside them.
For more information, call 217-239-7780 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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