Finding the Light

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The following account was written by Keenan Page, Employment Manager for Omaha Home for Boys Independent Living Program, Branching Out.

It was clear on the day I met Cody Simpson for the first time in September of 2014 that his life experiences had given him wisdom and strength far beyond that of his age.

Cody had a tumultuous childhood, to say the least. He endured everything from verbal and physical abuse and being disconnected from school for lengthy periods to lack of needed medical care, food insecurity and even homelessness. After bouncing around to countless group homes and psychiatric facilities, he was placed in a foster home in Omaha.

Because of Cody’s multiple out-of-home placements, he had many obstacles to overcome in order to become a confident, successful young adult. It is typical to see youth who are raised in foster care become systemized. That is, they often learn to please authority figures in order to stay in good graces. Such was the case with Cody. He was willing to follow the lead of any adult who would show him attention, even negative, unethical attention, in hopes that he wouldn’t be shuffled to yet another foster home or facility.

Just when it was uncertain if Cody would ever find the positive guidance and support he needed to truly thrive, he was connected with Branching Out, Omaha Home for Boys Independent Living Program, where I was the specialist assigned to work with Cody.

Keenan (left) and Cody

Right away, it was clear that Cody had very high expectations for what he wanted to achieve in life. He was eager and very motivated to discover what was needed to grow into a happy and independent adult. Each time we would meet he had so much to share and questions that had no end. After all the pain and loneliness he experienced as a child, it was as if he knew his mission in life was to overcome his past.

Throughout Cody’s initial 16 months in Omaha Home for Boys Branching Out Program, he was an outstanding achiever. He graduated high school, utilized our services to explore career goals, applied for college, obtained financial aid and scholarships, and even got involved in the Avenue Scholars Program. Branching Out helped Cody obtain all of his vital documents, such as his birth certificate and social security card, both of which had been lost and forgotten throughout his childhood and through many case transfers between agencies.

Beyond excelling in his education, Cody also began to master many of the skills needed to become a self-sufficient adult while working with Branching Out. He participated in our public transportation training and became a proficient user of the public bus system. He then obtained his learner’s permit and completed driver’s education courses. He also established a primary care doctor and took control of his physical and mental health, which had been in disarray for years. Additionally, he began working at a local restaurant and quickly became an exemplary employee.

Even more remarkable than the concrete goals that Cody accomplished during his time in Branching Out are the strides he made in growing as a person. He participated in our Project BAM (Being a Man) series and attended numerous sessions regarding healthy relationships, decision making, budgeting, organization, planning and goal setting. Cody began to truly own his life goals and had gained the confidence needed to stick with them.

When I meet with Cody today, it is plain to see that the hopes he always had for his future are no longer wishful thinking; they are a reality. He has his own apartment, a thriving network of friends and colleagues, and maintains a healthy relationship with his former foster parents, Robert and Jackie Stubbs, who played a vital role in Cody’s transformation into the young man he is today. Not only is he heavily involved in the Omaha independent living community, but he will soon begin college to obtain a degree in social work.

I sit back and imagine what Cody’s life could have been like. He could have gotten lost in the system – just another foster care youth who slipped through the cracks. Thankfully, Cody was connected with Omaha Home for Boys Branching Out Program where he gained the skills and confidence he so desperately wanted and needed to become the young man he is today.

After much darkness, Cody has found his light.

A Unique Approach

Omaha Home for Boys Independent Living Program, Branching Out, takes a unique approach to help current and former foster care youth build independent living skills by allowing the client to direct his or her path to independence. After completing the introductory phase of the program clients work with an Independent Living Specialist to choose an area of focus, either education, employment or housing, based on their individual needs. Finally, clients are given the option to move on to the final phase of the program where they can become a mentor for others in the program.

“Because participation in Branching Out is completely voluntary and self-driven, we’ve found that youth are much more invested in the program,” said Mary Marrero, Independent Living Housing & Education Manager for Branching Out. “For many of our clients, this is the first time they’ve been empowered to make their own decisions about the direction of their lives and future.”

How You Can Help

Cody’s story is just one of the many we hear everyday at Omaha Home for Boys. Your gift to the Home helps us fulfill our mission to support and strengthen these youth so that they can become the independent, productive young adults they are destined to be. Please give today!

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