The typical dorm room or first apartment is furnished with a couch from Mom, a table from Grandma, and dishes, silverware and other accessories you can buy at Goodwill or the discount store.
Those options, however, aren't available for many young people in foster care. When they turn 19, they become too old for that support system — and often don't have another one.
The organizers of a new donation center hope to fill that need.
Youth Mart, where former foster kids can find everything they need to outfit an apartment, will open in November in a warehouse on the Omaha Home for Boys campus, 4343 N. 52nd St. A public donation drive to stock Youth Mart will be held this weekend.
The center, one result of a summit that examined the needs of foster children who are entering adulthood, is a project of the Nebraska Families Collaborative. The collaborative is a nonprofit with a state contract to provide child welfare support to families in Douglas and Sarpy Counties.
Several former foster children were part of the summit, and the youths suggested such a center, said Jason Feldhaus, the eastern service area director for Project Everlast, an aid and advocacy agency for people who age out of foster care. Part of a $10,000 grant from the Nebraska Children and Families Foundation is paying for the center.
Social service providers and state officials have long struggled with what happens to the about 300 young Nebraskans who leave foster care each year. In its last session, the Nebraska Legislature established new support services for foster youths entering adulthood. Under the law, case managers will continue to work with former foster youths who are 19 and 20, who also will get housing support.
Items to be available at no cost at Youth Mart will include furniture, kitchen items, lamps, baby goods, new personal hygiene products, adult clothing and shoes.
Most people get these things from family as a rite of passage, Feldhaus said, but the families of foster kids often don't have the means to help. It's expensive to set up a first home, paying deposits and the first and last month's rent. Many former foster children have nothing left over to even shop at thrift stores.
“This is a chance for them to get free household items to make it more of a home than a roof over their heads,” Feldhaus said.
Only former state wards, whether they spent one year or an entire childhood in foster care, will be eligible to use Youth Mart.
The new center will occupy an unused area of an Omaha Home for Boys transportation warehouse, said Jeff Smith, manager of the home's Branching Out program, a four-year-old effort that helps current and former foster youths.
It will have “tons of space” where clients can see what's available and pick out what they need, he said.
“We'll help them load and make sure they have transportation” to get items home, he added.
Personnel from agencies that sponsor Youth Mart, community volunteers and some of the home's boys will staff the center, Smith said. The long-term goal is to have a paid worker.
The Child Saving Institute, Lutheran Family Services and the Central Plains Center for Services are the project's other participating agencies.