Stand in the Gap Ministries’ Life Launch program focuses on meeting the relational needs of at-risk young people, age 16-24, many of whom are aging out of the foster care system. Each young person is partnered with 3-4 adult mentors, who become friends and help them on their journey to become independent and self-sufficient.
Every year, approximately 300-500 young adults age out of the foster care system in Oklahoma. These young adults may or may not have a high school education, a job, or a place to live.
Stand in the Gap has partnered with several organizations to meet the “whole person” needs of these young adults.
Youth Villages is an important partner, providing case management services to youth in the DHS system. Their support of these young adults is critical because they understand the range of options for youth when it comes to housing, education, medical care, job training, and other pivotal factors of independence. Because Youth Villages provides these case management services, Life Launch staff and volunteers are able to maintain their focus on the relational aspects of our mentoring mission. Youth Villages has introduced Life Launch to potential youth participants as well as other partner organizations, like Walker Hall.
Walker Hall is a Mental Health Association of Oklahoma transitional living center for young adults who are experiencing homelessness. Walker Hall houses approximately 11 young adults at a time and promotes the life-skills development needed to successfully move into permanent housing within two years.
Stand in the Gap Ministries’ Life Launch program partnered with Walker Hall in 2016 to bring mentors into the lives of the residents. Eleven residents have been matched with Life Launch teams. They spend a minimum of three hours of intentional, quality time with their young person each month. But these relationships develop into much more than checking “quality time” off a to-do list.
Many Walker Hall residents have faced substantial physical or emotional trauma in their lifetimes. Some have suffered addictions and many are overwhelmed with loneliness.
TJ Warren, Life Launch Program Director said, “due to the effects of the trauma they have been through, they often make decisions only thinking about today, with very little thought for the future. Life Launch volunteers are trained to identify the impact of trauma in their behavior and can help remodel decision making, equipping these young adults for the future.”
You will often find Walker Hall residents and Life Launch mentors eating dinner together, filling out job applications, and working on educational or bible studies. During just one year of consistent relationship with their Life Launch mentors, many young people see a significant gain in emotional stability and physical health.
Mackenzie Jackson, Team Lead at Walker Hall said, “I’ve seen such a transformation in our residents as they are matched with a Life Launch team. The teams give them a chance to relax and have fun, feel supported and accepted and see examples of healthy, caring adults. They always come back smiling and eager to tell me stories about their time spent together.”
As new young adults enter Walker Hall, one of the first things they ask is, “when do I get my Life Launch team,” said Warren.
Christian, age 18, had experienced substantial trauma before moving into Walker Hall. His anxiety was so high that he wasn’t able to leave the house. After being matched with his Life Launch team, he is now attending school and social activities with others.
Angel, age 19, was a resident at Walker Hall. She spent most of her life in and out of shelters and group homes with her brother and sister. After being matched with her Life Launch team, she knew she wanted more for her life. She went to school, graduated with a culinary certification, and now has a full-time job and her own apartment.
Corey, age 24, came from a family with serious drug addictions and struggled with addiction himself when moving into Walker Hall. He was matched with three Life Launch volunteers who are all recovering addicts. Through their time together, they have seen a complete transformation in Corey’s life. He is one-year sober, enrolled in welding school and looking forward to the future.
“The little things mean a lot. Knowing that someone is looking out for you and is willing to encourage and invest in you, can bring an immense amount of meaning and value to a young person’s life,” said Jackson.
“We are so grateful for Mackenzie and the Walker Hall staff. Their hard work and purposeful engagement with residents has created an environment where change is possible. Their leadership has been a huge factor in the success of each of these Life Launch teams,” said Warren.
Casdyn, age 19, had never had a birthday party before moving into Walker Hall. When his Life Launch team heard this, they made sure his next birthday was a special celebration. Casdyn was so surprised that he couldn’t believe the party was for him.
He’s so appreciative of his Life Launch relationships. And the feeling is mutual. “We learn something new from Casdyn on a daily basis,” said Diane Lancaster, one of Casdyn’s Life Launch team members. “Our hope is that Casdyn has a safe and bright future and that he knows there are people who really care about him.”
Life Launch volunteers are equipped, they are intentional, and they are consistent. These relationships are not about providing hand-outs. Instead, after forming healthy and trusting relationships, Life Launch teams model healthy life skills and habits, empowering youth for independent living while partner organizations like Youth Villages and Walker Hall provide access to a complete continuum of care.