TWIN FALLS, Idaho (KMVT/KSVT) – The Twin Falls Optimist Club debuted the Youth House for kids aging out of foster care Thursday afternoon, kicking off the renovations with a groundbreaking event.
Barry Knoblich, the president for the Twin Falls Optimist Foundation said they started the project four years ago when they heard someone from CASA say there was a youth sleeping in a car.
“We didn’t exactly understand that,” Knoblich said. “It was somebody that had aged out of foster care and so we decided to look into it, and we thought maybe there was some kind of an easy fix, but it turned out it’s taken four years to reach this point.”
With the help of Twin Falls County and the community, the Optimist Club was able to start working on the house located near downtown Twin Falls.
“We started the funding with $20,000 and then we’re gathering funding from that point,” he said. “The Twin Falls County did a big favor for us when they offered this home to us for $1 a year. We can afford that rent.”
Through partnerships, Knoblich said they ended up with JEM Friends operating the house.
“JEM Friends will be totally in charge of selecting the youth that will be living here,” he said.
Executive director Liberty Barrett founded the organization after graduating high school and watched one of her friends go through the foster care system.
“Through her senior year, I saw so much anxiety coming through her life,” she said. “I saw the stress of making decisions of what she was going to do next.”
So the organization was chosen by the Optimist Club to run their operations.
“JEM Friends feels really honored to be a piece of bringing so much support for youth here in the Magic Valley, and we’re really excited,” she said.
Support for youth like 19-year-old Alexis Hernandez who said would have been helpful if she were to age out of the foster care system.
Hernandez told KMVT she was placed into the foster care system her freshman year in high school.
“I was thrown into a home that I had no idea who was there, and it was completely different,” she said.
After being in foster care for less than two years, she was placed back with her family. Within that time, she said she had to learn a lot.
“I was referred by my case worker to join the independent living program, and ever since then, I have learned so many skills that I never was taught to become an independent woman,” she said.
These skills she hopes to bring to the youth that will be living in the home.
“I’m hoping to provide a positive, like character, you know as far as communicating with them, mentoring them and supporting them,” Hernandez said.
While youth live in the home, there will be programs to assist them in navigating adult life.
“We provide them with housing, life skills, trainings, mentoring, help them with transportation,” Barnett listed.
Knoblich wants to remind the youth that age out of foster care that the community supports them with providing them the needed skills and opportunities they get along with the house itself.
“Everything they need that normally a loving family would have for that youth, that’s the same things that will be happening here,” he said.
When renovations are completed, the house will have room for 18 people plus two resident advisors, he said.
Knoblich said they hope to have at least the women’s floors, the basement and ground floor, to be finished by August before school starts.
“We’d love to have all of this ready, the whole thing ready for occupancy before school starts, because there’s kids in high school that need this,” he said.
He said at the rate the community is coming together, he thinks they’re going to be done by the end of the year with everything.
“We have wonderful finishes provided for tiling and flooring and we want this to be homey,” he said. “This will be a beautiful home where they will be proud to call their address.”