Updated 2/7/2022 11:11 PM
After years of working with CASA Kane County as a child advocate, Danielle Valkner of St. Charles saw the gaps in an overworked system, especially for kids in their teen years approaching adulthood.
She’s hoping a new program she helped to found called Fostering Success can help fill those gaps.
The group’s mission is to provide mentorships and financial assistance to teens and young adults facing life’s challenges throughout their transition into adulthood.
“We’re essentially talking about underprivileged, underserved or at-risk youth that need another positive adult role model in their life,” Valkner said. “So many times these kids just need a break, somebody to watch out for them and provide them with good advice.”
The program initially was conceived with kids in the foster care system in mind, hence the name.
“That’s still our primary focus. But through our research, we realized that the demand and need is much bigger than that,” she said. “There’s a lot of kids out there that need that support.”
As it navigates the waters with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services to help foster kids, the group is working locally with Elgin Area School District U-46 and its Project Access program.
The groups are partnering to identify kids who could benefit from the mentorship program. They plan to kick off a pilot program in April.
Meanwhile, Fostering Success is recruiting volunteer mentors and plans to begin training in March. After training the first wave of volunteers, the group hopes to add more mentors every other month.
“We want people who are committed to really working to make a difference — somebody who has time and capacity to be a positive influence in these kids’ lives and really wants to develop a friendship with them,” she said. “This is a meaningful connection.”
Mentors are asked for a one-year commitment to start. After an initial meeting, the mentors will be encouraged to check in with their mentee about once a week by phone and meet up a couple of times a month for a fun activity or just to hang out.
“It’s really just establishing that connection and then being a consistent, positive role model their life,” she said.
Mentors will have to pass a background check and be fingerprinted by the school district or the state.
Fostering Success was funded by seed money from the Wisdom Family Foundation, a Wayne-based, family-run nonprofit that connects children and families with immediate resources.
Valkner said they’ve been actively fundraising for outside donations since November. They hope to partner with corporate sponsors who will help with funding and provide mentors.
The five-member board includes Liz Sutherland, a co-worker of Valkner who herself went through the foster care system growing up. At 18, she found herself a legal adult and all alone.
“Life was tough because I was out here with nobody,” Sutherland said. “I really wish there had been a consistent person that was in my corner, someone who could have helped me navigate tough situations. I strongly believe Fostering Success is going to paint that critical piece in these young adults’ lives.”
Sutherland is helping write the training that mentors will go through. Valkner said the group will take as many volunteers in Kane and DuPage counties as it can get to help the nearly 800 homeless students that Project Access expects to identify by the end of the school year.
“We’re just asking for four to six hours a month,” Valkner said. “Four to six hours to do something really worthwhile.”