By Joey McWilliams
BRYAN COUNTY – “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” – James 1:27 NIV
More than 9,900 children are in the custody of the state, according to current numbers listed by the Oklahoma Fosters Initiative.
The Initiative and other agencies are looking for families to provide some stability for those youth during this time in the way of foster care, which is a temporary arrangement in which adults provide for the care of a child or children whose birthparent is unable to care for them.
The goal for a child in the foster care system is usually reunification with the birth family, according to the National Adoption Center. But that doesn’t always happen.
And when time rolls on and a child is not either reunified or adopted permanently into a foster family, the challenges can increase to build a stable situation for which the child to move after the foster period.
Adrean Stinnett, the youth minister at Community Christian Church in Durant, said she has seen many youth find themselves in bad places and make poor choices after ‘aging out’ of foster care.
“When I was in Arkansas, I was working with a lot of the students were coming in and out of the foster care system,” Stinnett said. “I ended up actually opening up my home to foster care youths that were in the system. And it was there that I started seeing a major trend that once the kids that were coming into the foster care system at the age of 12 they were aging out and had nowhere to go.
“So they were going back into the environment where they came from and that they were taken out of and they would end up on the streets. A lot of the girls would end up pregnant within a year or so. The boys were getting in trouble and ending up in jail.”
She said that’s where she saw the need to found J127 Ministry, answering the call of James 1:27.
Stinnett, and the board she has formed having been working for more than a year and are close to the opening of J127 Ministry, a non-profit organization to help those currently in the system and beyond to those who have aged out.
“We will be working with kids that are 18 and under in the foster care system,” Stinnett said. “Or they are orphaned or are homeless due to family support. We are going to be opening up a transition home here in Durant for youth aged 18-23 years old. It will be a place they can stay up to three years.”
At age 18, the state releases those youth who were looked after in the foster care system, and according to Oklahoma Fosters, there are 300 youth in Oklahoma that age out each year. J127 is to be a place to move on with continued support.
“We will be working with them on life skills,” Stinnett said. “We will be pairing them up with life mentors. They will be paired up with two or three mentors of different ages. We’ll have for instance, for a young lady paired with someone around a grandma’s age, and someone close to more of a mother’s age and someone close to her age. That’s how the mentor instruction will work.”
She said the youth will attend life skill classes where they will be learning anything from cooking to budgeting to maintenance on a car.
“Daily life skills that we take for granted that we may have learned along the way,” Stinnett said.
“Also, they will be working on their education within the first three months of coming to J127, either they will have to be enrolled in school full-time or part-time at one of the colleges or trade schools or to be paired up with one of the businesses that we’ve partnered with in Durant.”
There is also to be a house parent to live in the home, as well as a caseworker overseeing each of the youth with individual plans set for each of them. The mentors and house parents will help them oversee it to make sure they’re reaching their goals each month.
Stinnett quoted statistics from the Annie E. Casey Foundation noting that only 54 percent of youth that age out of foster care earn a high school diploma and only three percent earn a college degree. And this is part of the reason she said she and others have been working on this ministry.
“We already have a board formed. We have a board of eight. We’re almost a year into the paperwork, getting everything out and we’re looking to have a home opened and running by 2018.”
Stinnett also said she wants to get the word out to people in the area who would like learn more about it or who may want to help.
“If anybody would like for us to come and share, whether it’s one on one or if they have a small group or at their church or anywhere, we’re just really wanting to bring awareness and to let people know the need.”
J127 Ministry can be reached at 580-235-5540 or j127ministry.com.