VOICES – A JJF Charity Focus

VOICES’ mission is to empower underserved youth by utilizing holistic services throughout their transition from the foster care system while building a loving community and establishing a solid foundation for a healthy future. At the VOICES program’s core are youth-led strategies designed to address the independent living, housing, education, employment, and wellness needs of transition-age youth. Since opening its doors in 2009, VOICES Sonoma has supported thousands of youth as they break the cycle of poverty and despair and grow into healthy, contributing members of our community.

Support from the John Jordan Foundation has enabled VOICES’ success, evidenced by excellent progress made toward the program’s proposed goals. Following is a summary of those goals and the achieved results.

GOAL #1 – Provide comprehensive, youth-led, no-cost services that lead to positive outcomes in the areas of wellness, education, employment and housing. Programming, led by teams of youth and adults, will encompass the following services:

Health & Wellness Services – VOICES Sonoma will promote the wellness of 750 youth.

Result: VOICES promoted the wellness of 760 youth by providing centralized services and coordinating a seamless referral system. Youth staff provided core programming, including nutrition workshops, fitness activities, workshops specifically addressing trauma triggers, and peer coaching. Co-located services such as health clinics and food stamp application support increased youth access to health care resources.

Employment and Education Services – VOICES Sonoma will support 300 youth in achieving employment, academic success and career exploration.

Result: VOICES supported 350 youth in achieving employment, academic success and career exploration. Employment services included job readiness training, placements, retention support and career exploration. Education services included individualized support from the VOICES Youth Education Navigator (YEN) who provides tutoring, admissions and academic counseling, financial aid assistance and financial literacy workshops.

LIFE Conferences – VOICES Sonoma will engage 100 youth in LIFE Conferences to develop and facilitate the achievement of unique Life Plans.

Result: VOICES coaches supported 136 emancipating foster youth through LIFE Conferences. Each participating youth identified their goals and a team of caregivers, systems professionals and permanent connections to support their transition. Youth presented their goals, received support in developing a Life Plan, and implemented that plan with the assistance of adult and peer coaches.

GOAL #2 –  Broaden and expand current support offered to young people suffering from mental health concerns. In the coming year, VOICES will leverage and broaden support offered by Sonoma County Behavioral Health to provide comprehensive case management and resource connection to 150 youth in need of mental health support.

Result: Over the course of the program year, VOICES has continued to focus its efforts on increasing youth well-being through trauma-informed practices and wellness coaching while also successfully enhancing employee resiliency and reducing secondary trauma on staff through coaching and workplace support. VOICES recently became a certified Trauma‐Informed Organization through the International Trauma Center—a three-‐year process that has built VOICES’ capacity to respond to the underlying mental health needs of current and former foster youth. Additionally, a recent partnership with Sonoma County Behavioral Health now allows VOICES to dedicate additional resources towards the Alchemy Project, a comprehensive support program for Sonoma County transition-‐age youth with significant mental health concerns. The Alchemy Project works to develop relationships with the youth and encourage them to take full advantage of the services offered through the County Mental Health system. Despite last year’s massive budgetary deficits and personnel vacancies, the county has fortunately chosen to retain funding for the Alchemy Project, a testament to the program’s importance and success in serving the mental health needs of young people.

During this reporting period, VOICES provided comprehensive case management and resource connection to 157 youth in need of mental health support.

GOAL #3 –: Dedicate resources to addressing the issue of commercial sexual exploitation (CSE) among foster youth and support a Youth Leadership Team tasked with educating their peers on the dangers of this lifestyle. Specifically, VOICES will co-locate a Youth Advocate at Valley of the Moon Children’s Home who will work to develop key relationships with young women and support 15 youths in moving away from involvement in commercial sexual exploitation.

Result: CSE is a significant problem among youth living at Valley of the Moon Children’s Home. Young ladies will leave the home in the evening, participate in suspected CSE activities and return to home the next day. Recruitment of other youth has become a significant concern in Sonoma County. VOICES is uniquely qualified to provide the peer-to‐peer relationship-building necessary to address this sensitive issue among youth. A youth advocate and the Independent Living Program (ILP) manager visit the home regularly to meet with the youth, working to establish connections and provide resources for young women who may become involved in CSE. It is difficult to capture solid data for this goal because it is believed that only a small percentage of youth self-identify as being involved.

Additionally, the youth at VOM are short-‐term residents, so there is a high turnover, and it can be difficult to track down youth who are considered at-‐risk. In total, the ILP Manager connected with 25 young women at Valley of the Moon, of which 5 self-identified as being involved in CSE, but it is believed the real number is much higher. The ILP manager and youth advocate referred youth who were suspected of CSE involvement to Social Advocates for Youth and Verity. With this partnership and its co-located staff at VOM, VOICES is working to improve identification and risk assessment and enhance services dedicated to this population.