Let’s stop and let that sink in.
Erica Myers the National Foster Youth Institute Passout
By Jessica Bizik
Photography by Chris Crews
According to the National Foster Youth Institute, there’s less than a 3% chance for children who have aged out of the foster care system to earn a college degree. Only half of them will have gainful employment by the age of 24. Twenty percent become immediately homeless as soon as they turn 18.
Let’s stop and let that sink in.
Growing up in Baltimore County, Erica Myers didn’t have any friends or neighbors who were in foster care—at least not that she knew of. She began working in the youth development space when she was still a teenager: volunteering as a counselor at ORGANIZATION, which inspired her to study psychology at Spelman College. She then went on to get her masters in Education Science and Community & Social Change at the University of Miami.
That’s when she got to know—really, fall in love with—dozens of young men and women who were aging out of the foster care system, through an INTERNSHIP with the ORGANIZATION NAME.
“I especially enjoyed working one-on-one with the students,” she says. “They kept me humble—and they taught me a lot about resiliency. I knew that even after I moved back to Baltimore, I’d want to find a way to continue serving that population.”
Enter Fosterpreneur (fosterpreneur.org), the mentorship program Erica launched this year, in addition to working her day job as a WHAT for the Greater Baltimore Urban League. Fosterpreneur introduces foster care alumni between the ages of 18 to 24 to entrepreneurship—through business coaching, financial planning, and mindset development.
“We believe entrepreneurship is a viable career pathway out of poverty. Our goal is to cultivate a new generation of leaders, who chase after their dreams using innovation to change the world,” she says.
Erica, herself, has a mentor: William Honablew, director of the Haysbert Center for Entrepreneurship, which is both a partner and the physical location for the program. William has been helping with the technical part of the curriculum, while Erica has been focusing on the social/emotional piece. Together, they’ve been working on how to tweak the curriculum to meet the unique needs of students who’ve experienced trauma.
“Sometimes we’re working with individuals who are dealing with 10 to 20 years of pain,” she says. “We don’t expect overnight changes, but they do happen.”
Erica believes the mindset piece is critical. While every entrepreneur needs a business plan and a balance sheet, they also need a healthy way of looking at themselves and the world.
She’ll ask the students things like: How do you approach each day? Do you believe you deserve WHAT? ANOTHER QUESTION. ANOTHER QUESTION.
Over time, this coaching helps the students to develop greater self-awareness and self-management skills, make responsible decisions, and build strong relationships.
“Young adults who’ve been impacted by foster care are actually natural entrepreneurs,” she says. “They have grit and fortitude. They know how to navigate systems. They’re already savvy about how to work with different people—how to figure things out, when no one else is advocating for them.”
Often, what the students need most is just to feel like somebody’s in their corner. As one recent grad put it: “I loved coming to a positive environment, where people took a genuine interest in me and wanted to help me achieve my goals. I’ve never had that before.”
NUMBER students have gone through the 4-week beta program, which included two hours of education and coaching each week, followed by long-term case management. Erica considers the coursework the foundation, but says, “the real work comes afterwards.”
What’s cool is that the current students are actually involved in the program’s development: giving feedback about what they found most useful—and offering suggestions for other ways Fosterpreneur could support and inspire youth like them.
“We’re building the plane as we fly it—which is a really fun, informative space to be in,” says Erica. “That’s where the innovation happens.”