Held Law Firm is proud to announce our 2023 Campaign. In cooperation with our community partners, Vestal United Methodist Church (VUMC) and East Tennessee Community Design Center (ETCDC), we plan to found an apartment complex catered to the needs of children aging out of foster care in DCS Custody.
For those of you who may not be aware, foster care in Tennessee is in crisis. Children with no home to go to are spending 100 days or more in the hospital, even without illness, because DCS has no appropriate home for them. Others are sleeping on office floors. Other Tennessee children are being housed out of state because there are not enough beds in Tennessee.
The problem, if possible, gets worse when kids who have grown up in foster care turn 18. These kids have generally lived in locked facilities, with little opportunity to interact with the world at large or to develop a supportive network. Instead, they leave foster care facilities with no network and no idea how to access the services that help them get on their feet. More to the point: they have no where to live.
Held Law Firm and Vestal United Methodist Church have partnered to address that problem. The church has donated the use of its three-story tall classroom building to be developed as clean, secure, semi-independent living apartments for up to 16 youth who can no longer live in foster care facilities because they have turned 18.
The program, funded by DCS, will provide these residents with continuing education and social support to learn how to live independently, helping them to learn how to ride the bus, for example, or grocery shop on a budget. Vestal Villas also plans to partner with other community supports, like theCommunity Action Committee’s South Knoxville Community Center (CAC), who runs the community pool and recreation center just a block away, and Sustainable Futures next door, who teaches organic gardening and other life skills, and South Press Coffee, providing a sober space for youth.
“The network of support that already exists in Vestal created a unique opportunity to help these young people,” said Margaret Held of Held law Firm “We are grateful for the leadership of Pastor Tim Jackson, leading a true community-based church – Vestal United Methodist – to take meeting the needs of foster children in Knoxville to the next level.”
Numerous studies have shown that children who grow up in foster care are far more at risk of human trafficking, drug abuse, and incarceration than other young people:
-Only 1 out of 2 will get a job by the age of 24
-Only 1 out of 4 will graduate high school, and less than 3% of children who age out of foster care will get a college degree, but 70% report wanting to go to college
-93% are sexually active
-2 in 3 young women will get pregnant by age 21, with 15% of them getting an abortion
-40% report feeling depressed, with 10% reporting attempting suicide
-3 out of 5 young men will go to jail.
-1 out of 4 youth will chronically go hungry, with 67% of young women and 42% of young men getting SNAP benefits
-93% reported not getting necessary medication and health care
-1 out of 2 will become the victim of domestic violence
-1 out of 2 will become addicted to drugs
Experts and social workers agree: the reason for these alarming statistics is because these children do not have families and social supports, or even a place to live, when they turn 18.
Vestal Villas will remedy this problem. The classroom building will be transformed into 16 individual rooms for youth who have never lived on their own before. They will cook meals together in a community kitchen, enjoy speakers and workshops on how to live independently, and be centrally located to a variety of supportive services. The youth may live there so long as they are actively in school or working, with their rent paid by theTennessee Department of Children’s Services for up to three years. They will also be eligible for up to $5,000 for continuing education.
But most importantly, they will be part of the supportive community that IS Vestal. Church services for those who want them are in the historic sancturary next door. CAC, with its active community center with a public pool and basketball courts, is within sight. Knoxville Martial Arts Academy (KMMA), a community-spirited private gym, is across the street, and Tea and Treasures is at the corner. The youth will live 3 miles from downtown Knoxville, a mile from the grocery store, and a mile from a sober, supportive coffee shop and venue. The Community Coalition Against Human Trafficking (CCAHT) is a half mile away, as is Knox Pride Center. Sustainable Futures, with its community garden and classes for self-suffiency, is next door. Most of these amenities are walk-able along Vestal’s greenway, but those that are not are accessible through KAT, with a bus stop right out front.
In this environment, the youth will experience real community, with help available from all kinds of sources, all with a long history of working with at-risk youth in various contexts.
It’s only 16 units. But Vestal Villas sets out to be a model that can be replicated throughout Knoxville and in Tennessee, even the nation, of how to support young people aging out of foster care as they take their first steps toward adulthood.
At Held Law Firm, creating strong, independent families is what we are all about. We are proud of our work on this project, and committed to service to our community. For more information about Held Law Firm, visit us online at www.heldlawfirm.com.