By SHERIDAN ROY
The local nonprofit, LISA (living in safe alternatives) Inc., is unrolling a new initiative that will provide youth with the opportunity to learn necessary skills for transitioning into adulthood. The LISA, Inc. life skills academy takes programs and initiatives that LISA, Inc. already offered, enhances them, and consolidates resources under one umbrella into a curriculum of care for youth who need it most.
“LISA, Inc. is founded on the belief that young people deserve to be safe, have hope, and build skills for the future,” said executive director Kim Selvaggi. “That core foundation we have is critical in everything we do.”
The organization’s main focus has primarily been on residential programs where youth in the department of children and families (DCF) system could transition into adulthood with support from professionals. With the life skills academy, LISA, Inc. is focusing more on community based programs.
“The life skills academy is going to be a place where young people, whether from DCF or not, from this local community or not, can get access to the skills, supports and adults who can really support them in their transition from adolescence to adulthood,” said Selvaggi.
The academy will connect youth to real world experience as they learn financial literacy, coping skills, relationship building, communication skills, problem solving, and nutrition and cooking. Youth will not only learn how to get a job, but how to keep it. They will learn how to budget, pay bills, read a paycheck and more.
Substance abuse prevention is part of the academy, too. LISA, Inc. life coaches will teach youth refusal skills, and build up their confidence so they feel comfortable using those skills.
“Based on assessments we use to find out where kids are at with life skills, we will focus on what they need the most,” said life skills manager Jackie Alpert. “We want to fit to individual needs, fill in the gaps, and meet youth where they’re at.”
LISA, Inc. programs have always been geared towards youth in the DCF system, but the life skills academy will be available for youth outside of the system.
“We realized there’s a need for both foster care youth and youth in the community. All kids need life skills,” said Alpert. She explained foster care youth need additional support because they have experienced a fragmented past, typically going through multiple foster homes, multiple schools, and so on. They often don’t have the stability needed to learn the necessary life skills, and in addition, the stigma of people in the system affects them.
Faith Santiago, a young woman who is a product of the LISA, Inc. residential program, shared her experiences of going through the support programs when she was a teenager.
“When I didn’t understand something, I immediately felt attacked, but moving forward all my bills are paid on time, I always have extra, and I’ve learned to budget,” said Santiago. “I’ve gained resources, perseverance, confidence and strength in the areas I lacked.”
A second former client Marcus Pastuszak said if it wasn’t for LISA, Inc., he wouldn’t be where he is today. His two biggest takeaways were communication and budgeting skills.
Youth may be referred to the academy through parents, doctors, teachers or other influential adults. The entire program is six months including 50 sessions, but the number of programs can be tailored to individual needs. The cost is $2,800 per youth, and LISA, Inc. is continuously seeking fundraising, donations and grants to help pay for programs like these.