There's a brand new five-bedroom, 4,100-square-foot house in Clearwater waiting to become a home. Part of the Transitional Living Program (TLP) run by Family Resources, a Pinellas Park-based charity, the house has been earmarked for a dozen at-risk adolescents in foster care, but at the moment it sits empty.
For the want of $87,000.
The house has walls, a roof, plumbing, electricity, even carpet. It does not have beds, furniture, towels, sheets, pillows, cooking wares, a TV and all the other stuff that makes a house a home. Pamela Miller, Family Resources' vice president of development, explained that the charity is not seeking used furniture or other items. "The furnishing needs to stand up to the daily piling in and piling on of teenagers," she said. "We need new, industrial type furniture like you might see in a waiting room of a hospital. Sturdy wood construction, something that lasts."
Family Resources, founded in 1970, has run a TLP home for more than 20 years in St. Petersburg. The program caters to kids age 15-18, girls and boys, who are "in foster care or a short-term shelter," Miller said. "Not all of these kids are successful in their foster homes, and they might get bounced from home to home."
Staffed around the clock by direct care personnel who handle the nuts and bolts of the kids' lives, and including counseling services, the TLP home is meant to nurture, not warehouse, these children. The first requirement is that the youngsters get an education, either a high-school diploma or a GED. Once the educational component is established, they get part-time jobs and have to save 60 percent of their earnings to build a nest egg when they move out at age 18.
"We teach them life skills, how to be successful," said program supervisor Joe Aschenbrenner. "Counselors address their issues, past and present. After finishing the program, some of the kids get an apartment, others go back to family members; a number of kids enroll in college or a trade school."
These are considered successes. Aschenbrenner said that similar programs nationally score about a 45-50 percent success rate, while Family Resources runs around 60-65 percent.
Despite the raging hormones and personal problems found in a home full of parentless teens, they build a strong chemistry, Aschenbrenner said: "When we have six males and six females like we do now, it creates a real nice balance. There's no dating amongst each other; it's a brother-and-sister community. The kids keep each other in line, hold each other accountable. It's generally a very cooperative and peaceful home."
Of course, some kids step out of line. "We know teenagers are going to make mistakes," Aschenbrenner said. "But it's about the kids taking ownership of their behaviors. If they're willing to do that, we'll work with them to the nth degree."
There are 12 kids out there waiting to move into a similarly supportive environment in spanking new digs. Remember, the $87K doesn't have to come in a lump sum.