Junior League's Holiday Market | 20th Anniversary of Shopping to Support Good Works in Our Area
Junior League of Fort Smith Steps Up to Serve
Helping Foster Teenagers to Emerge into Adulthood
Three festive days Nov. 21-23 are an intense gift-buying experience forshoppers, but a year or more’s worth of support for projects of the Junior League of Fort Smith.
The service organization combines funds raised with volunteer work by its members, turning the revenues from full shopping bags into needed services for children and others in our community.
This is the 20th anniversary year of the market and during those two decades the Junior League has accomplished many beneficial projects. Displays at the market will remind shoppers of all the good work their purchases have helped to support, much of it for children.
The current focus for Junior League volunteers are children 14-18 who are “aging out” of the foster care system, according to Ashley Ahlert, current JLFS president, who sees these teenagers as a “silent population” at risk and in need of help to progress to productive, happy lives.
Although 18-year-olds who have been fostered but not adopted can stay in the system until age 21, they also are free to leave and live independently. Those who leave foster care are at high risk for unemployment, failure to complete school and homelessness.
The league has volunteered to teach life skills classes, mandated by the foster care system, to youth 14-18 to prepare them for the transition and encourage them to stay in the foster system until they are 21, so they may receive some assistance for education, jobs and housing.
Like any teenagers, these kids are chafing to start their lives and tired of classroom talk. It is a critical time for making a connection with them.
“Once they’re out, they can’t come back,”?Ahlert said. “That’s why it is important we are doing classes – instead of an agency. We’re here because we want to be, not because we’re paid.”
The Junior League is developing a creative, hands-on approach to reach the teens and taking suggestions from the youth themselves.
“We don’t just talk about a budget, we may take them to a grocery store to pick out a meal within their budget and also prepare that meal,”?she explained.
“There is no set curriculum for the entire state so we have been tasked by Transitional Youth Services in Little Rock, under DHS, to help develop this curriculum,”?she said.
Besides helping establish an effective, state-wide curriculum for life skills, the Junior League hopes to help develop safe and affordable housing options for transitioning foster teens.
“We also did research for the Children’s Emergency Shelter in the past,” Ahlert said.
Holiday Market is more than the chance to shop and socialize. The Junior League intends to leverage this entertaining holiday event into support for young people in our community to emerge into successful lives.