TeenForce program puts foster teens to work


For Rachel Neel, her job is more than a paycheck -- it's the promise of a better life. She grew up in foster care and aged out of the system when she became an adult. She's now 20 and trying to make it on her own.

"Right now I am living in a youth shelter. It is not specifically for emancipated foster youth, it's just from 18 to 22, I believe," said Neel.

Neel and other young adults with foster backgrounds don't have the traditional family support which often helps land that first job. That's where TeenForce comes in. It's a non-profit in Santa Clara County that started two years ago to help teenagers find work. Last year it also started focusing on the needs of foster kids. The non-profit has helped prepare nearly 200 young people to enter the work force and match them with jobs. Michael Nino, 19, is among two dozen who grew up in foster care.

"Now that there are people out there that can help you and stuff like that, it gets better, you can get on your feet, learn to do what you have to do to make it out there in the real world," said Nino.

Founder John Hogan launched TeenForce with help from private sector grant money. It's follows a business model where employers pay going rate, generally minimum wage for the workers and kick in a little extra to help sustain the non-profit.

"We're putting all of these youth to work without relying on any government subsidy. We make it very easy for employers to hire qualified youth and motivated youth," said Hogan.

Goodwill CEO Michael Fox is one of nine employers in Santa Clara County putting foster teens and young adults to work. Neel is a human resource assistant at Goodwill and Nino is in the recycling warehouse.

"It gets them some stability into their life and give them job skills so they can get much better jobs down the road," said Fox.

In Los Gatos, Waleena Griffin, 19, is one of those with a foster background and is an example of why the company says the program makes good business sense.

"We work here with them. That's what I like a lot about this place actually. They trust my skills. They give a word for my skills so I'm grateful for that," said Griffin.

Neel is also grateful. Her job will help her move beyond the youth shelter. She said, "It is a confidence booster to be able to say, 'I am a working woman.'"

TeenForce says there are hundreds of young adults from foster care eager to work. They're not looking for a hand out, they're just hoping for help up.

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