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Cobb Nonprofit Helps Youth Learn, Practice, Master Life Skills

The Marietta-based Center of Children & Young Adults operates three long-term foster group homes serving Atlanta. Take a closer look at child abuse and neglect and children living in poverty in Cobb County.

Cobb Nonprofit Helps Youth Learn, Practice, Master Life Skills

In Cobb in 2010, there were 829 incidents of child abuse and/or neglect and 34,347 children living in poverty, according to Georgia Family Connection Partnership: Kids Count. Statewide, there were 20,675 incidents of child abuse and neglect and 613,581 children in poverty.

The Center of Children & Young Adults was created in 1981 to serve as a home and shelter for youth in need of housing and supervision due to histories of severe neglect, abuse and abandonment. 

In 2007, the Center moved from operating as an emergency shelter in Cobb County to running as three long-term foster group homes serving Atlanta.

“As the only organization serving homeless youth in Cobb County, CCYA is a valuable resource in our community filling a vital gap in housing children and youth in need,” Merrill Baker, Director of Development of CCYA, said.

Over 7,000 boys and girls have received services at CCYA since its opening.

“When youth first arrive at the Center, they are hesitant and unsure. After having some time to settle in and meet the staff and other kids, they begin to feel more at home,” Baker said.

CCYA can house up to 39 youth at one time, and in 2011 CCYA served 114 boys and girls from throughout metro Atlanta and surrounding counties.

“We are their home. Many children who come to live with us do not leave until they reach 18; others at 18 go into our Life Works Independent Living Program and stay for about two years to transition successfully to adulthood, and others come and go through our doors as needed—meaning some are homeless for a week, a month or a year while other permanent relative and community placements are identified and transitioned,” Baker said

More on the Problem CCYA Addresses

The state of Georgia has more than 14,000 youth in foster care, which includes congregate foster care, like CCYA, Baker said. Nearly 4,000 of these youth are in that critical stage of older adolescence, between ages 14 and 21. Each year, more than 400 foster youth in Georgia become legally emancipated on their 18th birthday.

At this point, they have two options: Voluntarily sign back into state care and participate in an Independent Living Program or leave foster care and try to make it on their own, Baker said.

“Too often these youth, tired of being in the system and seeing no viable alternatives, choose to venture out on their own before they are ready. Throughout most, if not all, of their lifetimes, the only 'parents' they have known have been a state or county agency. Literally overnight, they find themselves totally on their own,” Baker said.

"The transition into adulthood is never an easy one; but for this population, the shift is especially challenging. They are lacking the tools that come from a typical family experience, like emotional support, financial assistance and the knowledge of basic life skills," Baker said. Suddenly, the youth is responsible for his/her own food, housing, transportation, education, health benefits and medical and mental health services.

They are at an increased risk for homelessness, substance abuse, chronic health issues, depression, eating disorders, poor dental hygiene, sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy, public assistance, incarceration and suicide.

Services Offered by CCYA

CCYA operates three residential care programs for youth and young adults in foster care: Another Chance, Open Gate and Life Works.

Another Chance is a 20-bed home for boys 13-17 and Open Gate is for girls 12-17, who have been abused, abandoned, neglected or are at risk. They receive food, clothing, shelter, quality supervision 24/7, medical services, academic assistance and recreational activities, as well as the coordination of on-site therapeutic services. Starting at age 16, they may take part in CCYA’s Independent Living Program Prep.

A “Life Skills for Healthy Living” initiative was launched in 2011. The program offers a variety of hands-on experiential activities that help youth learn, practice and master life skills for self-sufficiency, Baker said.

What Sets the Organization Apart from other Nonprofits of Its Kind?

  1. The structured Life Skills Education and two Life Skills Instructors on staff;
  2. On-site GED classes: CCYA has seen an increase in the number of youth needing GED instead of a high school diploma because by the time they arrive at CCYA, they are several grades behind their same-aged peers, Baker said.
  3. Professional staff with masters level Program Managers, Bachelors and Masters Level Resident Advisors;
  4. The recent shift CCYA is making to the Sanctuary Model, where all staff from the maintenance and kitchen staff to the CEO will be trained in all aspects of caring for youth.

What is the Most Rewarding Part of Being with the Nonprofit?

“The most rewarding part is helping the kids make a successful transition to the next phase of their lives. When we help them move into a college dorm or into their very first apartment, we feel like proud parents,” Baker said.

“We know the obstacles they have overcome to get where they are," Baker added. "We also love when these kids return to The Center to tell us what they’ve been up to and to share their story with the current residents.”

CEO Kim Borna recalls a Christmas morning, “when it was snowing and the kids were knee deep in wrapping paper and excited and happy and saying that it was the best Christmas they ever had.”

Donations, Volunteers

Monetary donations can be made online at ccyakids.org or by mailing a check to The Center. CCYA also takes donations of toiletries (shampoo, toothpaste, soap, lotion, etc.) and household items (twin sheet and bedding sets, towels, pillows, etc.).

CCYA has many volunteer opportunities for individuals and groups including tutoring, mentoring, serving meals, and campus projects like painting, yard cleanup and small repairs.  For volunteer opportunities, contact ktinsley@ccyakids.org.

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