Program for Mercer Youth in Foster Care Gets Home

FARRELL, Pa. – A new facility will provide a vital program for teenagers in foster care with solid roots in the community.

Mercer County Children and Youth Services’ independent living program teaches life skills to teens and young adults who have been in substitute care but didn’t have the opportunity to learn adult activities like laundry, cooking or even driving. The program did not have a set meeting place and relied on coffee shops, laundromats and local libraries to teach valuable skills. The program moved into a unit on Idaho Avenue and held an official ribbon-cutting ceremony Tuesday for the Independent Living Skills Center.

“We were working from our cars, so now we have our own place – it’s a safe, comfortable place they can come to,” Whitney Clapper, independent living program specialist, said. The facility will help the program broaden its reach while giving the kids the opportunity to socialize with their peers in a safe space.

The 3,000-square-foot facility, located in the same building as the area’s district court on Idaho Avenue, gives the kids an “anchor,” Mercer County Commissioner Matt McConnell said.

“People actually get to call it home,” McConnell says.

The facility has multiple washers and dryers to teach laundry skills, a kitchen for teaching cooking and how to wash dishes, and computers to apply for jobs and build resumes. Having the same equipment in the same space gives the kids a sense of familiarity, McConnell said.

The program is for teens and adults between the ages of 14 and 23 who have spent at least one day past their 14th birthday in out-of-home placement, such as foster care or kinship care. Clapper says there are 90 teens and young adults on the roster.

The program is voluntary, so participants can come and go as they please. They also can get one-on-one help for specific skills they might need assistance in achieving. The program, made up of six staff members, teaches a wide range of skills, from more elaborate skills like how to change a tire to basic hygiene education, Clapper said.

“We do college tours and cooking groups, we do sexual education and hygiene issues. They [participants] come in at all different levels, so we have to have a wide variety,” Clapper said.

The county is leasing the space from Penn-Northwest Development Corp., which Mercer County Board of Commissioners approached about to buy the unit.

The corporation bought the space over a year ago for $15,000. The unit was a “shell” at first and Penn-Northwest spent $200,000 to renovate the facility, including upgrades to the electrical, plumbing and heating/ventilation/cooling systems, Rod Wilt, Penn-Northwest executive director, said. The renovations, which took up to eight months, were completed by Mark Hudson Construction, Hermitage.

The facility is a great investment in Mercer County’s foster care system and the county’s next generation, Mercer County Commissioner Scott Boyd said.

“This program really gives them a last opportunity to really educate themselves and be ready for life out in the world,” Boyd said.

Pictured (from left): Mercer County Children and Youth Services Acting Administrator Maggie Saxe, Mercer County Commissioner Scott Boyd,  independent living program specialist Whitney Clapper, Farrell Mayor Kimberly Doss and Mercer County Commissioner Matt McConnell celebrate the opening of the independent Living Skills Center.

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