AOI is excited to announce this year’s AOI National Award winners!  Our esteemed panel of judges selected six (6) excellent programs to be recognized this year. Read more about them below.

Click here to download the award winners’ strategy papers.

(Virginia) Established in 2008, the Virginia Great Expectations program provides transitional support to young people who have experienced foster. An initiative of Virginia’s Community Colleges and the Virginia Foundation for Community College Education (VFCCE), Great Expectations focuses on the value of a post-secondary credential as the best way to gain employment and achieve independence. Great Expectations is currently in 21 of the 23 community colleges in Virginia and serves about 1,400 youth who have experienced foster care. The program provides a Great Expectations Coach at each college who is the conduit to wrap around services for foster youth and becomes the caring adult that helps the student succeed.

Great Expectations offers:

  • Help applying for college admission and financial aid
  • Personalized counseling
  • Career exploration and coaching
  • Connecting to college resources
  • Student and adult mentors
  • Life skills training, including managing finances
  • Individualized tutoring
  • Access to emergency and incentive funds for students
  • Opportunities to participate in group activities and a leadership program

“We are honored to receive this recognition from the Aging Out Institute.  We are proud of the work our organization does to help young people who are aging out of foster care achieve their dreams through education.  This award reflects the efforts of our coaches and students to persevere, exhibit resiliency, and succeed in the face of adversity.”
-Rachel Mayes Strawn, Program Director

L-R: Jennifer Roark, Southwest VA Community College (SWCC) GE Coach; Amber Fuller, SWCC GE Student; Andrea Keen, SWCC GE Student; Emily Terry, VHCC Great Expectations Student; Deborah Ledford, VA Highlands Community College (VHCC) Great Expectations Coach; Rachel Mayes Strawn, GE Program Director

(Kentucky) Sunrise Children’s Services runs a program called VentureON – A path of life for young adults aging out of state care. Sunrise’s VentureON program is the only program of its kind in Kentucky that provides the widest and most comprehensive services and programs to ensure success, bringing private businesses and industry, faith-based organizations, and the Commonwealth together to create an environment of power and success for some of the most forgotten youth in the state. The program effectively escorts these young people into a meaningful and productive adulthood with a solid foundation. Planning and preparing for independent living, providing connections to safe and stable adults, learning life skills, access to college or technical school, and creating opportunities to develop advocacy skills are all essential for the young adult to create a new path of life. It is a vibrant continuum of care for kids who have experienced abuse or neglect and now deserve the guidance and support VentureON provides.

Each youth not enrolled in technical school or college seeks meaningful employment or they may choose to work and go to school if they feel they want to attempt this balance under staff support. The team works with the employer to help ensure the youth’s success. Corporate partnerships have already been formed with companies such as Kroger, Texas Roadhouse and other entities. From pre-employment workshops and business mentors to on-the-job training and coaching, each employer is dedicated to ensuring the success of the young adults in this program. These partnerships will enable participants to gain essential workforce skills, which include interview skills, resume writing, and work etiquette.

“Sunrise is both humbled and thrilled to be named the 2018 AOI Employment Award winner. To be recognized by this innovative national organization dedicated to bringing organizations together to share ideas around better equipping young people for they future for which they dream and to be reviewed in the company of so many great organizations is a shower of blessings in itself but to win, Sunrise VentureON could not be more thrilled as we give God all the glory. The VentureON concept begin as a discussion and grew into the creative, expansive program it is today in such a short time by God’s grace, magnificent partner support, and individuals/foundations willing to make an investment in the lives of young adults who deserve the opportunity to succeed. This award honors all of the hard work, the countless hours, and the servant hearts of those within the program and the young adults we serve.”
-Kenny Williams, Vice President of Community Based Services

L-R: Richard Ferguson; Heather Bailey; Valerie Crume; Jodi McCarty; Charlene Scites-Thompson; Lisa Porter; Misty Reynolds; Drew Lester; Lani Crume; Kellie Neal, Program Director

(Texas) CitySquare’s mission is to fight the causes and effects of poverty through service, advocacy, and friendship. Working hand in hand with our neighbors -we do not have clients – we develop sustainable partnerships that provide support and encouragement so that all can achieve their full potential. The mission of CitySquare’s Transition Resource Action Center (TRAC) Program is to connect young people who are transitioning from foster care toward self-sufficiency, with individualized support, planning, and access to community services.

TRAC Housing provides temporary rental assistance, transitional and permanent supportive housing, along with wraparound services to at-risk young adults ages 18-24. The goal is residential stability for self-sufficiency and increased skills and income. Rental Assistance: available to youth who participate in case management and are working, enrolled in a higher education program, or are actively working a career plan. This assistance is short-term and designed to stabilize housing and prevent episodes of homelessness.

  • Transitional Housing: shared, short term housing for homeless youth, with a preference for youth exiting state foster care with no housing options or have become homeless after leaving foster care.
  • Rapid Rehousing: permanent housing for homeless youth, preference for parents escaping domestic violence and former foster youth.
  • Permanent Supportive Housing: for youth who are homeless and have a documented disabling conditions, preference for former foster youth.

“What an honor it is to receive this national recognition for our housing as we continue expanding services to meet the overwhelming need among foster youth here in Texas!
-Madeline Reedy, Senior Director – TRAC

L-R: Madeline Reedy, TRAC Senior Director; Dr. John Siburt, President & COO; Treva High, TRAC Housing Coach; Portia Johnson, TRAC Housing Coach; Larry James, CEO

(California) University of California Riverside’s Office of Foster Youth Services (OFYSS) provides a network of resources to students who are transitioning from the foster care system to adulthood to facilitate their successful pursuit of higher education. The program draws on the resources, strength, and support of our campus and community to provide current and former foster youth (aged 16-24) with a comprehensive college experience and the opportunity to realize their full potential. The UC Riverside Guardian Scholars program, which is housed within OFYSS, offers additional academic and emotional support services to youth who have aged out of foster care, including access to on-campus year-round housing, individual mentoring, mental health resources, life literacy and leadership seminars, career development internships, scholarship assistance, and bi-weekly community and cultural enrichment activities. Relationships are the active ingredient within the Guardian Scholars Program. There is very little turnover across the volunteers and staff running the program, and the relational connections extend well beyond the college years.

Through weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly meetings with mentors, the director, executive director, and theirs peers, UC Riverside Guardian Scholars have access to a network of support that fosters relationship building. The program facilitates community building activities ranging from group activities (e.g., museums, adventures) to luncheons, and family style dinners. In addition, they have a peer mentoring program to help students to learn the value of shared support seeking and provision.

L-R: Mercedes Jaudon, Student Assistant; Tuppett Yates, Ph.D., Volunteer Executive Director & Founder; Kenyon Lee Whitman, Program Director; Steering Committee Member

(Rhode Island) Foster Forward has been — and always will be — committed to practices that promote permanency and well-being for all young people in foster care, and that provide foster parents with the support and resources they need to be successful. Real Connections works collaboratively with the youth’s treatment team o address the permanency needs of the youth we serve.  We also work very closely with Mentor RI, an affiliate of Mentor: the National Mentoring Partnership, to recruit mentors from around the state.

Mentors and youth have a Youth Support Specialist to help support their relationship and address any areas of concern or issues if they arise. Mentors and youth have regular check ins with the Youth Support Specialist and complete evaluations after being matched for 6 months and 1 year of their relationship. Youth Support Specialists also attend school and treatment meetings to stay up-to-date on the needs of the youth and plans for their future.

“It is an incredible honor to have our Real Connections Program recognized by the Aging Out Institute (AOI) National Awards Program for our work helping youth in foster care build positive relationships with adult mentors. We are proud that many of our mentors become life-long connections for their mentees and some have become foster and adoptive parents for youth with whom they were matched!”
-Lisa Guillette, Executive Director

L-R: Kate Bronner, Real Connections Coordinator and Lisa Guillette, Executive Director

(New Jersey) Roots & Wings’ mission is to provide young adults who age out of the New Jersey foster care system with safe housing, educational support, case management, counseling, and life skills in order to empower motivated individuals toward self-sufficiency. Roots & Wings provides innovative, holistic programs and services aimed at remediating the deficiencies in education and socialization that result from the unstable and often abusive childhoods experienced by their clients. Roots & Wings has two direct service programs – a residential program and an outreach case management program. These programs emphasize life skills training, financial literacy, financial independence, and the value of a solid education as the gateway to meaningful job opportunities. The goal of both programs is to provide the opportunities and support these young people need to successfully transition from foster care to independent adulthood.

The key to their success and what is truly innovative about Roots & Wings is how their programs are aimed at the needs of the “whole individual.” They address the entire panoply of issues facing former foster youth with an emphasis on education, job training, building confidence and acquiring important life skills. Medical, dental and legal issues are also addressed. Clients leave Roots & Wings having broken the cycle of poverty, abuse and despair that research shows often continues generation after generation absent intensive outside intervention.

“Roots & Wings is honored to be recognized by the Aging Out Institute for its unique and holistic services for aged out foster youth. This award is a great distinction and furthers our ability to share best practices and lessons learned with others serving this population.”
-Emily Marchese, Executive Director

L-R: Kate Bronner, Real Connections Coordinator and Lisa Guillette, Executive Director

A special thank you to the individuals who donated money that enabled us to launch this awards program!
Marina Aris
Tom Berkshire
James Black
Terry Lynn Bright
James Brinser
Lynette Buitt
Saundra Chaudhry
Michele Eby
Vanessa Fernandez
Fostering Footprints
Beth Gliksman
Tracy Griffith
Ann Gwinnutt
Girard Hemminger
John Hogan
Lynne Jasames
Brian Keefer
Richard Kercher
Nicole Kilburg
Johnson Lightfoote
Jane Lyons
John Moran
Lois Morris
Pamela Nelson
Esther Nicholas
Greg and Lisa Russell Nix
John Pawelek
Matthew Rexroad
Christopher Rich
Chad Ruegsegger
Neil Sakuma
Samm Smeltzer
Jennifer Spillane
Sharon Stalker
Laura Sterner
Gregory Tobin
Susan Todd
Sarah Wilson
Anonymous (multiple individuals donated who wanted to remain anonymous)