CBS4 News is featuring a special series of reports this holiday season called the 12 Days of Christmas. The following story is written by CBS4’s Shawn Chitnis.
DENVER (CBS4)– Children growing up in the foster care system often find themselves struggling to make the leap toward becoming an independent adult, so Mile High United Way launched a program to help them reach the other side called Bridging the Gap.
“I don’t have a lot of people out here that I can go to,” said Selina Peña, a current participant of the program. “That will support me in a positive way.”
During the holiday season, many of us get the chance to see family and friends. You often exchange gifts with loved ones and celebrate this special time of the year together. But for so many young adults across Colorado, they don’t have anyone thinking of them or inviting them to spend the holidays with each other.
“A lot of youth, once they leave foster care, they have nowhere else to turn,” said Jennifer Newton, an Independent Life Coach with Mile High United Way.
These young adults can’t achieve their goals without a room to study in or access to a bathroom so they can shower and dress up for an interview. They don’t even have a place to cook a meal or sleep at night.
“Once you give these young people a chance,” said Newton. “They can flourish beyond most people’s imagination.”
Peña was a young mother with a 1-year-old and another baby on the way sleeping in a friend’s basement before she found Bridging the Gap.
“In order to help our young people secure their futures,” said Newton. “Housing is one of those things that is extremely important.”
Once Peña joined the program, she was paired with Newton. Bridging the Gap also provides vouchers for housing, which let Peña find her own place to raise her two daughters.
“She just keeps pushing me, and supporting me,” said Peña.
Now she has a plan to get educated and start a career. She may even return the favor eventually and come full circle with her dream job.
“I’m hoping to get in school, put my girls in daycare, and work [at the United Way] one of these days,” said Peña.
LeDay Grant is a graduate of the program. She has her own place and works two jobs. But she didn’t have any drive to become an adult before joining Bridging the Gap.
“I didn’t want to finish school before I was in the program,” said Grant.
She worked with an independent learning coach and focused on her future. Grant says the constant positive energy got her through a lot of personal struggles.
“I didn’t know if I was going to get anything for Christmas,” said Grant, thinking back to her life before the program.
But four years after finishing the program, she still visits the team at Bridging the Gap. She thinks of them as a family and helps others currently in the program.
“You can go far when someone is willing to help you,” said Grant.
Coaches like Newton explain that these young adults are struggling, unable to rise above the challenges they faced as children.
“It helped me to stand up,” said Grant. “Because I was going through so much to where I didn’t have a peace of mind that I wanted.”
In early December the program hosted a holiday party at the Mile High United Way headquarters. It was a chance for current and past participants of Bridging the Gap to celebrate Christmas with each other. Many received the only present someone will give them this holiday season.
“When you feel like, you know, you have nothing,” said Grant. “They make you feel like somebody. It makes you want to do it for yourself.”
Both Pena and Grant were there to enjoy the event and spend time with others like them. They were eager to be there regardless of whether they had completed Bridging the Gap or were still working through the program.
“It’s that place you always go back to,” said Newton. “Kind of like home.”
LINK: United Way Denver