Based on what the Junior League of Pensacola (JULEP) is doing with its foster care initiative, we’d say the formula is: pressing need + community support + total commitment + willingness to adapt.
JULEP is in the fifth year of a major focus on foster care, particularly as it relates to the problem of aging out, where foster kids are dropped from their programs once they hit a certain age, typically 18. JULEP’s major outreach project is Steppin’ Out, which teaches young women in foster care essential life skills they will need when they age out.
Steppin’ Out consists of an annual series of three one-day workshops. Instructors are all volunteers from within the Pensacola community with expertise in these important areas:
- Project Beauty – self-esteem, healthy relationships
- Project Cook-Off – nutrition, cooking, healthy lifestyle
- Project Dollars and Sense – personal finance, budgeting, preparing for a job interview
- Project Arts – a nice dinner downtown and a theater night (most recently at The Saenger Theatre in Pensacola, Florida, for a showing of Mama Mia) for program graduates
But JULEP’s program is not static. Steppin’ Out evolved from an earlier initiative; it an outgrowth of the League’s former Junior League Girls to Girls project, which began in the 2003 – 2004 League year. The program met with at-risk girls identified by Top of the Bottom Ministries, a group which served the portion of the community with a large concentration of extreme poverty. Junior League members provided mentor sessions for girls up to six times year in hopes of serving as positive role models and inspiring them to succeed. Girls to Girls proved to be a experience which was meaningful to Junior League members and the participants in the program.
Much of the success of the Steppin’ Out program comes from alliances with strong community partners. The girls are referred by partnering agencies like Families First Network of Pensacola, Children’s Home Society of Florida, PACE Center for Girls, and Families Count. JULEP’s Foster Care Focus Committee also coordinates events with Families First Network and Children’s Home Society and supports their events and activities. Other supporters include Bank of America, West Florida Hospital, Pensacola State College School of Cosmetology, Santa Rosa County Health Department, and Friends of the Saenger.
JULEP coordinates with their partners to serve foster children and their families through two other programs. Done in a Day events at JULEP help provide foster families and kids with pajamas, beds, appreciation dinners, family field days, Santa breakfasts, and recruitment efforts. Their Foster Care Focus Committee oversees another great program element which provides kids in the program with mini-grants to fund ordinary purchases that aren’t reimbursed by their foster care programs, including eyeglasses, transportation costs and expenses like scouting fees and high school cap and gowns. JULEP has a member Group page on Facebook in which emergency requests from social workers are communicated and in just a matter of minutes a member replies with a means to help fulfill the request for a foster family. League members are proactive in helping the children and families in their community.
Looking ahead, JULEP may ultimately consider handing off its foster care initiative to a community partner and move on to another – but not yet identified – major focus area. Past programs (also successfully handed off) included speech and hearing assistance for deaf children and adults, legal aid, downtown revitalization, teen peer abstinence promotion, a thrift shop, Leadership Pensacola, and car seats for children. But until then, Pensacola’s foster care community has a friend in The Junior League.