Training program

New job training program gives former youth in foster care a chance to leave behind hardships

The weight of the moment almost overwhelmed Creshia Lewis, 22, as she took to the podium to speak Friday morning at the HAY Center.

“This program will help me and my son enormously. We won’t have to struggle anymore,” Lewis said, stopping as tears streamed down his face. She stepped back and rallied as a crowd of support erupted in applause. “I can finally say that I am free from stress. I’m free,” she continued. “I really am. I’m free.”

Freedom comes in the form of a full-time job as a counselor at Health and Human Services Texas Works. It’s life-changing for Lewis and his 3-year-old son who receive housing assistance from the HAY Center, an organization that provides resources and support to current and former adoptive youth aged 14-25.

When Lewis first arrived at the HAY Center, she was still a teenager, aged in foster care and living in a shelter.

“I didn’t know where to turn. I was a troubled child. I really was,” Lewis said. “But when I found out about The HAY Center and all the resources they had for me, it really made me want to change my life because there’s so much more to life than trouble, jail… I could have been anywhere.”

Creshia Lewis’ three-year-old son approaches her as she talks about her experiences leading her to a vocational training program, Friday, April 8, 2022, at the HAY Center in Houston. “This program will help me and my son enormously. We won’t have to struggle anymore,” Lewis said as her eyes filled with tears and she gathered her thoughts on the podium. “I can finally say that I am free from stress. I’m free. I am really. I’m free.” After completing a seven-week program, the five former youth foster participants will now begin full-time work as Texas Works counselors with the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. the state.Mark Mulligan/staff photographer

Now she was standing with four of her peers, all former young adoptees who had completed a new seven-week job training program through a partnership with the HAY Center and the Texas Works Path to Success Program at Texas Health and Human Services Commission.

The center’s housing coordinator, Joan White, put an arm around Lewis’s shoulder and they pressed their heads together in a warm embrace. It was White who had helped Lewis find stable housing, which enabled him to find childcare and then a stable job.

Lewis wasn’t done though. She explained how she wanted her son to have the childhood she never had.

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Now, with a starting salary of $36,000 a year and comprehensive benefits including health care, vacation and a retirement plan, Lewis will work for HHS to help Texans determine their eligibility for programs like as Medicaid and SNAP food benefits.

“Solutions need to be more than lip service,” said Wayne Salter, assistant executive commissioner for access and eligibility services at the Health and Human Services Commission who conceived the idea for the program. occupational hazard. Two years ago, they began the first training in partnership with the Houston Independent School District. Seventeen students have completed the program. Another program graduated 15 adults. The five graduates of the HAY Center’s pilot program are the latest in the program’s mission to provide more opportunities for “at risk” youth groups.

Funding comes from the combination of state and federal funds available in the HHS training budget. HHS provided the training while the HAY Center provided funding for students enrolled in the seven-week program. The five former foster youth who entered the HAY Center program have completed the program and will begin work this month.

“We have to learn how to give people a chance to fight,” said Salter, who believed guaranteed employment should be there when training is completed. “We want it to be meaningful. We want it to be impactful. We want to change the life trajectory of young people.

“An opportunity for me”

This impact is evident for 24-year-old Debra James. She attended classes from 8 a.m. to noon every morning and worked security from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. every evening. Vocational training provided her with an opportunity she was looking for.

“I’m tired of struggling. I’m sick of living paycheck to paycheck. I’m tired of worrying if my lights are going to cut out,” James said. “And it’s an opportunity for me to get better, to get bigger, to be something bigger than me.”

The HAY Center group became like family to James, who was homeless when she arrived at the center. She found housing resources there, and with stable housing, James was able to start working in a movie theater while studying at Houston Community College.

James, however, was looking for something his other jobs didn’t offer him. When the opportunity arose to train for a job with full benefits and the ability to continue to progress, she couldn’t pass it up.

“I didn’t have a childhood. I had to raise myself and my older siblings. I never really had anyone to rely on until I got into CPS and got older and got in touch with the HAY Center,” she said. Now she is building a future with her fiancé and a full-time job starting April 18.

Creshia Lewis hugs HAY Center Housing Coordinator Joan White as she gets emotional while speaking at a graduation ceremony celebrating five former young adoptees who are completing a job training program, Friday, April 8, 2022, at the HAY Center in Houston.  “This program will help me and my son enormously.  We won't have to struggle anymore,” Lewis said as her eyes filled with tears and she gathered her thoughts on the podium.  “I can finally say that I am free from stress.  I'm free.  I am really.  I'm free.
Creshia Lewis hugs HAY Center Housing Coordinator Joan White as she gets emotional while speaking at a graduation ceremony celebrating five former young adoptees who are completing a job training program, Friday, April 8, 2022, at the HAY Center in Houston. “This program will help me and my son enormously. We won’t have to struggle anymore,” Lewis said as her eyes filled with tears and she gathered her thoughts on the podium. “I can finally say that I am free from stress. I’m free. I am really. I’m free.” After completing a seven-week program, participants will now begin their full-time work as a Texas Works advisor to the state Health and Human Services Commission.Mark Mulligan/staff photographer

At the end of the graduation ceremony, current Health and Human Services Commission employees from city offices gathered to greet their new colleagues. They were in the back at the graduation ceremony, cheering on the five graduates.

“It’s so good to see them all happy and excited,” said HHSC supervisor Gail Cox, who will welcome Lewis to her team in a week. “We want to support them and show them that they are part of the family.”

Lewis spoke to his supervisor as they posed for photos. She can’t wait to get to work.

“I’m ready to start on the 18th, to go out there and help the world,” she said. “Especially single mothers who come with children. I am ready to help them.