An unsettled upbringing in foster care.
Living on the streets hungry and broke.
Searching for a job but uneducated with no transportation.
The young men and women who seek the services of Branching Out, Omaha Home for Boys’ Independent Living Program, come from a variety of troubled backgrounds, yet these youth all have one thing in common: the desire to become more than what their pasts have dictated.
While Branching Out has always served as a source for at-risk youth to learn the skills needed to become independent, productive adults, in 2017 the program underwent some significant changes in order to serve its clients even better. With the hopes of creating a community of support for youth and empowering them through more positive peer interactions, the program was restructured to include three phases: Introductory Phase, Building Phase and Self-sufficiency Phase.
During the Introductory Phase, clients learn the basic skills needed to complete the rest of the program requirements. They learn how to create a budget, complete their resume, attend public transportation training and obtain their vital documents, such as their birth certificate and Social Security card. Clients are also required to complete one elective course on time management, goal setting or cooking.
After completing the Introductory Phase, Branching Out clients move on to the Building Phase in which they choose an area of focus, either education, employment or housing, based on their individual needs. Clients attend classes in their focus area and become equipped with everything from college survival skills and career planning guides to the how-to’s of apartment searching and leadership skills.
During the Building Phase, youth are also given a self-sufficiency account with $350. The account acts as an incentive bank where money is added for positive participation and deducted for the costs of services and for negative behavior. After the successful completion of the Building Phase, youth receive a check for the remaining balance in their self-sufficiency account.
Finally, Branching Out clients can move on to the optional Self-sufficiency Phase. In this phase youth act as peer supporters and mentors to youth participating in the first two phases of the program. They are also invited to attend social outings together.
The restructuring of Branching Out has brought about many positive changes, one of the most notable being the ability to serve more clients.
“We used to meet with youth one-on-one out in the community,” said Mary Marrero, Branching Out Independent Living Education Manager. “Now we offer classes at a centralized location which not only allows us to serve more youth at once but also gives the youth an opportunity to interact with others who are facing many of their same struggles.”
The new Branching Out structure also provides better service to clients as staff specialize in one area of client growth rather than working with youth from admission to program graduation.
“Under our old structure, one specialist was covering all areas of need for our clients from basic needs to more advanced classes,” said Mary. “With our new structure, each staff member is able to have an area of expertise to provide quality support to our clients in the growth area that is most crucial to each youth. As clients move through the phases of the program, they encounter multiple supportive adults rather than working with one specialist throughout their time in the program. It’s much less isolating for both the staff and the youth.”
Above and beyond the increased number of youth served and the higher quality service provided is the newfound sense of community that has formed as a result of the Branching Out program changes.
“We are creating a community for these young people to lean on in times that are good and times that are bad,” said Sam Callaghan, Branching Out Independent Living Specialist. “We have clients helping other clients during our classes. We’ve seen older youth help teach and guide younger youth through classes and even some younger youth helping older clients.”
Keenan Page, Branching Out Independent Living Employment Manager, agrees. “Branching Out focuses on creating a community of support for our clients, offering them opportunities to form relationships that enhance their empowerment and momentum towards self-sufficiency. Our youth community is already starting to grow in vibrancy.”
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