Volunteers in Salt Lake City are filling boxes full of household goods this week intended to go to young adults who are aging out of the state’s foster care system. The Lifestart Initiative tries to provide this vulnerable population with some of the things they need to live on their own.
Up on the 2nd floor of the NPS Warehouse in West Salt Lake, volunteers are filling large plastic bins with towels, sheets, sponges, and tools.
“There’s pots and pans, kitchen items, bedding, a first aid kid, a tool kit, a hygiene kit, even a roll of toilet paper – all the kinds of things that these kids need to start their own apartment," says Lisa McDonald, Executive Director for The Christmas Box International.
They’re the kind of things that parents sometimes give to kids as they’re going off to college or to their first home. But many foster kids don’t have parents to provide these things, like 19-year-old Nicholas Nahalewski.
“A lot of people, they have mom and dad to go back to in case something happens, but with people like me that aged out of foster care and don’t really have a relationship there with our parents, we don’t have that safety net,” Nahalewski says.
Lisa McDonald says there are about 180 young adults in Utah who will age out of foster care this year, and they are a vulnerable, high risk population.
“Some studies have said that within 2 years, 60 percent of these kids are either going to be incarcerated, have an unexpected child, have multiple mental illness issues, or are not going to make it and they’re going to die,” McDonald says.
Homelessness is also a risk for these young people. Nahalewski was homeless for about a year, until Salt Lake County Youth Services helped him with some transitional housing and other support.
“I wouldn’t have made it here without that help. I’d still be homeless… or worse,” Nahalewski says.
Thousands of young adults in Utah and in surrounding Intermountain states have received Lifestart kits since 2006. More information is available at TheChristmasBoxHouse.org.