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by Staff Writer / Tampa Bay Lightning
Lightning Foundation Grant Story Archive:
A Ray Of Hope From The Sunshine Project
SERVE Volunteers In Education
St. Peter Claver Catholic Scholarship Fund
Tampa Bay SLED Hockey Program
Everyday Blessings For Foster Children
The Spring Of Tampa Bay, Where Family Abuse Ends
A Gift For Teaching
Salesian Youth Center
Connected By 25


An 18th birthday should be a time when a teenager is excited about becoming an adult and their wide open future, yet they still have the security blanket of their home and extended family. Unfortunately, in the case of foster care, many teenagers are forced to leave the system when they turn 18 even though they have not even finished high school.

In Hillsborough County about 75 teens "age out" of the foster care system each year. Many of these foster children are not prepared for social and financial independence when they are forced to leave the foster care system. They do not have the luxury of knowing how to open a bank account, buy a car, or find an apartment if they can afford it.

"When a child turns 18 and must change high schools he or she can not go to another school and enroll as an adult," said Connected by 25 Executive Director Diane Zambito. "Our kids had 10 times the dropout rate than other kids and this program allows us to build an education system to support the safety net gap. Prior to the program 85 percent of our kids had not maintained school enrollment and now we've been able to build on-site education classes.

"The students want to continue education; we just haven't made it easy for them to do so. That's our job, how do we eliminate those barriers? Now they have one place they can go and finish their education."

The purpose of Connected by 25 is to ensure that foster care youth are educated, housed, banked, employed and connected to a support system by the age of 25. The age of 25 is believed to be the same age most middle-class kids with generous parents become financially independent.

With the help of local businesses and individuals, through Connected by 25, teens who are forced out of the foster system because of their age receive part-time jobs, mentors and contributions to help pay for college and job training.

The Lightning Foundation's grant will go directly toward Connected by 25's Connection with Education program which will serve 200 current and former foster care youth between the ages of 14 and 23. It will help provide education planning services and it will serve 150 young adults in Adult Basic Education classes, GED classes and tutoring services. Specifically, the grant will provide a certified teacher to assist year round in these educational services.

"What the lightning grant helps us to do is build on our education program," Zambito said. "We went from just having a tutoring program to having a full-time teacher. We already have 20 students in the program and all those have heard the program through word of mouth. We expect many more to enroll."
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