IUMCH Focuses on Independent Living Learning Program
Last fall, Indiana United Methodist Children’s Home (IUMCH) wanted to strengthen its Independent Living Learning Lab (ILLL) program and asked NaTasha Howell (shown left with two youths) to serve as coordinator.
The children’s home in Lebanon assists youth who have experienced abuse, neglect or other trauma and as the students graduate and lean toward moving out on their own, there are many things most take for granted that they haven’t yet learned.
“My main focus is to teach kids how to live independently once they leave,” Howell said. “We look at how to enroll in further education, what it takes to apply for an apartment, how to manage fi nances, how to find a doctor in your area. So many of them were not taught these things in their earlier years.”
It’s not uncommon for recent high school graduates to begin dreaming of living on their own, making their own decisions and gaining their own independence, however, IUMCH has put some incentives in place to prompt youth to slow down and work through the necessary steps to ensure success.
“We encourage them to stay a little longer. Some of the students turn 18 before they graduate and we don’t want them to leave the program without a diploma,” Howell said. “Once you turn 18, you receive $10 per day if you choose to stay. That way, they leave with some savings and they’ve learned a little more along the way.”
Collaborative Care through the Department of Children’s Services (DCS) also partners with IUMCH to help support a lease on an apartment or future education desires through the young adults 23rd year.
“They don’t realize they have to apply for the apartment in their own name and they need to meet income requirements,” Howell said. “The Collaborative Care program comes in to help with the rent on that apartment, so long as they agree to continue to work or go to school.”
For Howell, the mission is personal. She’s been working with youth for 20 years and particularly enjoys working with teenagers.
“I’ve watched so many kids turn 18 and they want to be on their own,” Howell said. “That’s understandable, but if you start out with no money and no job … no one wants you on their couch for very long. You have to be able to provide for yourself.”
In ILLP, students attend weekly classes looking at a variety of subjects from identifying healthy relationships to how to develop a resume.
Howell invites speakers to come in and share with students, including couples who have been married for more than 10 years to discuss the ups and downs of relationships and professionals who can talk about expectations in the workplace.
They go on field trips to find out how much space they’ll receive in an apartment for how much money and attend college tours to learn more about continuing education.
One way Howell said the community can support their cause is to give the students a chance.
“There’s a stigma involved sometimes, and we need each one of these young people to have jobs and people who are willing to provide those jobs to them,” Howell said. “It’s becoming harder to find jobs and they won’t make it on $12 per hour.”
Overall, Howell hopes to guide each one toward a successful future through education, experience and practice but she knows the road is long and there will be hiccups along the way.
“We are not your average group home because we’re not kicking you out when you turn18.We want you to be successful and to this day, I still communicate with youth who are now living independently,” Howell said. “I’m still here as that mother figure for them.”