Easing the Transition to Adulthood
Junior League of Madison President Laura Gmeinder.
For some students it’s difficult to imagine life beyond high school, especially if life in high school has been a challenge. “Teens in Transition” is a program created by the Junior League of Madison to address this concern for foster care youth. Since its inception three years ago, president Laura Gmeinder has seen the direct impact it has on a niche group of teenagers in the Dane County.
Madison Magazine: How did you become involved with the Junior League of Madison?
Laura Gmeinder: I joined in the fall of 2002 and am so proud to be part of an organization that has provided so much to the Madison community. Several years ago I sat as the Community Research Chair leading the committee that researched and identified what community needs in Madison were not being fully met. Out of our lengthy process we recommended Teens in Transition (TNT). I’ve participated as a mentor and have donated to our new home kits that include household basics like cleaning products and toiletries to individuals in transition.
MM: Describe the TNT program.
LG: It provides teens transitioning out of foster care encouragement and support as they explore their options and create their life as an independent adult. It must be so scary to be a teenager and worry about turning 18, knowing that they may be on their own and unsure who or what will be there to support them. Statistically many more teens aging out of the foster care program than those in the general population find themselves homeless, or worse, in prison. We are doing what we can to ensure that teens transition successfully into adulthood.
MM: How do you educate teens in foster care about your resources?
LG: In early October we had our Teens in Transition open house event that invited foster care youth, their parents, community members and other students to learn about the possibilities that are available to kids when they leave foster care. We were excited to offer them an opportunity to interact with people representing professions such as a fire fighter, hair stylist, veterinary assistant, chef and marketing brand manager just to name a few! In addition, we had several colleges and technical schools represented to encourage teens to further their education or acquire the skills needed for a trade. The program allows students to talk to professionals from many different fields; some careers they may not have even known existed.
MM: What a great networking opportunity. What do you enjoy most about the event?
LG: My favorite part is seeing the kids dream big. Whether it is someone who is considering going on to school to further their education or learn a trade, it’s always exciting to see that sparkle in their eye when they find out what they are passionate about. We are always looking for speakers, so we encourage anyone interested in supporting us in this way to reach out: TNT@juniorleagueofmadison.org. Exposing the students to more unique jobs and skills helps them see their options so we’re always interested in talking to people in other fields.
MM: How do you see the success of the program after three years?
LG: We really are making a difference one teen at a time. It is great to see the young adults get excited about career options. The most beneficial element is knowing that we identified a need and are growing a program around addressing that need. Even if students aren’t going on to school we still receive requests for our home kits, which helps those in transition move into their first home on their own.
MM: Other than Teens in Transition, what else does the Junior League have planned in the upcoming months?
LG: This January marks Junior League of Madison’s 25th anniversary and we’re celebrating with a gala and silent auction on January 25 at the Madison Concourse Hotel. We’re also hosting our All Dressed Up event in March, which provides prom dresses to area girls. All proceeds from these events go back to our community programs such as Teens in Transition. So far, the Junior League of Madison has raised over $1.3 million to support the work we do in the community and we want to continue this trend.
The Teens in Transition open house event was held on October 5, 2013 at American Family Insurance’s Dream Bank. For more information and to get involved with the Junior League of Madison visit their website at juniorleagueofmadison.org.