Last February, the state of Ohio decided to make major changes to how it helps foster kids through a program called Bridges.
Now, almost a year into the program, are those changes helping the young adults prepare for the future?
Marquell has spent the last five years in foster care. He has stayed with five different families. He stayed with his aunt until this past April, until he got a letter in the mail saying he was emancipated.
The Youngstown native aged out of the Ohio Foster Care System when he turned 18 in March.
It happens to about 1,000 young adults every year.
“I was scared. I was really scared,” Marquell said. “I didn’t know what I was going to do. I didn’t know where I was going to go.”
Marquell and his aunt called their foster care caseworker who introduced them to the Bridges program.
“It was better than what I expected it to be,” Marquell said. “Any other kids at 18 years old, they don’t really have support.”
The Bridges program began in February of 2018, created by Ohio House Bill 50. It allows young adults to stay within the foster care system until they turn 21 while living on their own.
The state pays for their housing and helps them with things like grocery shopping, applying for college and getting a job.
Marquell said in order to stay in the program, you have to be working.
The 19 year old works as a youth mentor at the Mahoning County High School, the school he used to attend.
Jennifer Merritt, superintendent at Mahoning County High School, said it was a natural fit for Marquell. She noticed that many of the younger students would reach out to him.
“The connections I was building with these kids and how far it was going, and how much they looked up to me, I just said, ‘This is where I was meant to be,'” Marquell said.
Merritt said it’s great for the school, too.
“The help and improvements he’s made in the lives of our young students is absolutely incredible to see,” she said.
Marquell said he sees himself in the students he mentors. He hopes to help them like the Bridges program helped him.
He wasn’t always such a model student.
“I was getting tattoos at 13. I was just going down the wrong path,” he said.
Marquell said he’ll continue to help kids at the school, but eventually, he wants to start his own mentor program for foster kids in Youngstown.
“If these kids don’t have somebody that they can look up to, there won’t be any change like there was for me,” he said. “If I didn’t have the people in my circle that showed me another way, I still would have been doing the same.”
For more information on the Bridges program, go to www.bridgestosuccess.jfs.ohio.gov or call (614) 656-6328.