NORWOOD, Ohio – When it was time for Hannah Carrington to tell her story to a reporter, she started with a sad and straightforward statement.
“Well,” she said, “pretty much my entire childhood was filled with neglect and abuse from my parents.”
Still, Hannah considers herself lucky.
She and her three siblings went to live with their grandmother when Hamilton County Children’s Services removed the children from their parents’ care, she said, so they didn’t don’t have to live with strangers or bounce from place to place. This arrangement lasted for Hannah for several years until she moved to live in Lighthouse Maison Mecum because her grandmother could no longer take care of her.
Soon after Hannah turned 18, her situation improved further when she was invited to be part of a program called My first place.
âI was like, ‘this is going to be a huge turning point in my life’,â recalls Hannah. “And that’s the case.”
The goal of My First Place is to teach young adults who are aging outside the foster care system how to become independent. GreenLight Cincinnati Fund and Hamilton County Job & Family Services introduced the program to town in 2019. NewPath Child & Family Solutions, the non-profit organization formerly known as St. Joseph Orphanage, manages the program in Hamilton County.
My First Place is different from traditional programs that aim to give young adults their first chance at living on their own, said Esther Urick, director of foster care and independent living services at NewPath.
âWhat My First Place has brought to the youth of Hamilton County is a promising, data-driven practice modality to help youth succeed,â said Urick. “And when they get older, move to safe, stable, secure housing.”
The program does that, she said, by surrounding young people like Hannah with adults who can provide the support, guidance and instruction young people need to complete high school, continue their education and obtain jobs that pay enough to cover their expenses.
âWe wrap them with a lot more supports than a traditional independent living program,â she said.
Improve the trajectory
This support is crucial because young people who leave foster care are more likely than their peers outside the child welfare system to experience homelessness, to be victims of crime, to become victims of parents at a young age or find themselves behind bars.
In fact, 40% of all youth in care nationwide become homeless before the age of 24, according to data from First place for young people, the California-based nonprofit that started the My First Place program. The My First Place program has reduced this score in other locations over the past 23 years, with over 93% of program participants staying stable when they leave the program.
âNo one likes to see children come out and become homeless,â said Urick. âSo we really wanted to change that statistic. “
Finding apartments for the program’s youth has been one of NewPath’s biggest challenges, she said. This is because the rental market has become so difficult since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Urick said, and because many landlords are reluctant to rent to young people who do not have a background as a tenants.
NewPath has 15 young adults participating in the program. So far, 67% of My First Place youth in Hamilton County are housed in a stable manner, she said, and 56% are employed.
The goal is to double the number of Hamilton County youth in the program and ensure 90% of participants are housed in a stable manner. Urick said the pandemic has also made it more difficult to increase the number of participants in the program.
Even so, the way My First Place helps young people has been impressive, said Clare Zlatic Blankemeyer, executive director of GreenLight Fund Cincinnati.
âI don’t know about you, but when I was 18 I still had to raise my hand to go to the bathroom,â she said. “And here we expect 18 year olds to leave the foster care system and find out about their lives.”
The number of young adults enrolled in the program is important to GreenLight Cincinnati as a funder, she said, but it’s not what matters most.
âThe impact that young people are having in terms of self-reliance is the kind of impact that we want to see,â said Blankemeyer. âThe life that is impacted and the trajectory of a young person are what matters most. “
Hannah, who suffers from a condition called Fragile X Syndrome, said she has felt good about her own trajectory since joining My First Place in October 2021.
She lives with a roommate in an apartment in Norwood where she says she feels safe.
She is on track to graduate from high school this year and looks forward to participating in a workforce training program after graduation. And, in addition to the help she receives from My First Place, she has other social workers at Hamilton County Job & Family Services who help connect her with other supports and services.
“I already love you guys”
âRight now, while I’m in high school, my goal, my main goal, is to graduate from high school,â Hannah said. âWhat I see for myself is working as a grocery clerk, bagger or stocker in a grocery store. Or in a department store. Something like that.”
As Hannah plots her way into the future, she says she knows she can count on the adults on her My First Place team: Peter Baako, program manager; Shannon Nixon, youth advocate and social worker; and Brittany Smith, the education and employment specialist.
âIf Mr. Peter was here with Miss Brittany and Miss Shannon, I would say, ‘Thank you very much. You are doing a great job, âHannah said. âI already love you guys. Thank you for helping me with this program and getting me started.
Hannah said she knew the My First Place team was there for her, and Urick said it was extremely important for young people in foster care.
âUnfortunately, a lot of our young people as they age in foster care, one of the reasons they get older is that they don’t have a natural support system,â said Urick. “So they don’t have parents or extended family members or even a community member they can count on for the help most of us have had growing up.”
My First Place provides that, she said, and helps young people like Hannah get back on their feet the moment they leave the program at age 21.
And that’s why Hannah feels lucky.
âIt’s awesome,â she said of her apartment. âI have good neighbors. I have a really good roommate who I can talk to if I need to talk to someone. Or if I just like spending girls’ time with her. I can ask her if she wants to do something fun like listen to music or sing.
Hannah said she knows many children in the foster care system don’t have what she does.
“You might be really lost, and you probably beat yourself up by asking yourself, what did I do wrong?” ” I understand. I used to blame myself a lot, âshe said.
Hannah said she hopes many more young people like her will be part of My First Place.
âWith a scale of 1 to 10 to recommend this to other kids, I would do a 10,â she said. âBecause this program does all it can for the kids, which is new in itself. They didn’t have a childhood the way they wanted. And the program will do everything possible to meet the needs of the child.
More information about First Place for Youth, the California nonprofit that started the My First Place program, is available. in line. Informations about My First Place in Hamilton County is available online or by calling NewPath at (513) 741-3100.
Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the tri-state great and highlight the issues we need to address. To reach Lucy, send an email to [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.