SIUE’s Danette Griffith Helps Foster Care Youth Build Brighter Futures

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Danette GriffithA Cahokia youth struggled with self-worth as a foster child. Today, the 20-year-old finds himself gainfully employed with a positive self-image and outlook. 

The transformation, in part, is due to Southern Illinois University Edwardsville East St. Louis Center’s (ESLC) Building Futures program, according to Director Danette Griffith. 

“Building Futures is a statewide program, designed to help young adults, ages 17-20, when they phase out of the foster care system to have obtained credentials and work experience,” said Griffith. “The ultimate goal is to help young adults secure living-wage employment and learn how to financially support themselves when they are no longer in the foster care system.” 

“Key goals for the program are to eliminate barriers for Department of Children and Family and Services (DCFS) youth,” continued Griffith, “and assist them in getting to a place of self-sufficiency, by helping them find and retain living wage employment, affordable housing, and meet their educational or vocational training goals.” 

“One good example of the help we provide is a Cahokia youth, who was attending college for computer science,” offered Griffith. “He decided to take a break and think about the career direction he wanted to pursue. He is a very motivated young man, and we were able to place him in job training at Brock Auto Parts in St. Louis, where he created a data base to log their auto parts and post items for sale on eBay.” 

 “Later, we were able to get him paid work experience with the SIUE East St. Louis Center’s IT Department as client support,” she revealed. “This young man assists with the daily operations and maintenance of all staff computers, assists clients with the setup of phones and wireless computers, troubleshoots hardware and software programs, performs diagnostic testing and more.” 

The SIUE job has allowed the individual to gain valuable work experience within his desired career field, save money, become more self-sufficient and considering going back to college, noted Griffith. 

“This program is important, because there is a negative stigma attached to youth in the foster care system,” Griffith continued. “We want them to understand that everyone has a starting point, and no matter the situation, with the right amount of guidance, support and internal belief, they can succeed.” 

“I hope all of our participants become more motivated and develop a strong sense of pride within themselves, knowing they can do anything they put their minds to,” she said. “I also want our participants to know that they have a team behind them that is truly vested in their success.” 

With a focus on empowering people and strengthening communities, the SIUE East St. Louis Center is dedicated to improving the lives of families and individuals—from pre-school through adult—in the Metro East region. The Center offers programs that give the community renewed hope and an opportunity to reach educational, career and life goals. It does so by providing comprehensive programs, services and training in the areas of education, health, social services and the arts. 

Photo: Danette Griffith is director of the SIUE East St. Louis Center’s Building Futures program.