Since 2007, the number of children placed in foster care due to parental substance use disorder (SUD) has risen by 53%, per the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System. As with other SUD-related issues, this trend is disproportionately higher in Appalachian counties, such as Barbour County, West Virginia, where approximately 60% of school-aged children are no longer with their parents largely due to addiction according to Barbour County Public Schools. The Mountain State has been grappling with this concerning increase in foster youth, feeling both the strain on available services and the uncertainty faced by children ageing out of foster care and into a potentially unstable early adulthood.
Thankfully, ARC partners including New Vision Renewable Energy are tackling these challenges head-on. Using a $487,500 ARC INSPIRE grant, New Vision will both enhance Appalachian communities’ access to clean energy and empower at-risk youth by equipping them with the skills needed to build it.
New Vision’s work began in 2022 with a $50,000 INSPIRE planning grant. The data they gathered, and the strategies they developed, will be used to implement their innovative Next Gen WV project, which will offer a new phase of support for at-risk youth exiting foster care. INSPIRE funds will be used to provide a residential campus for participants, complete with housing, mental and social supports, as well as on-the-job training and employment in relevant sectors.
“The INSPIRE planning grant gave us wind under our wings to investigate and connect with people in Appalachia and across the country,” said New Vision Renewable Energy President and CEO Ruston Seaman. “We were able to develop a vision that is being embraced even before the first shovel of dirt has been turned.”
Over the course of each year, New Vision’s Next Gen WV campus will support three cohorts of 10 individuals both aging out of foster care and recovering from, or at-risk of, SUD. Using data gathered directly from youth transition programs across the U.S., New Vision will focus on five core areas of support for participants, including:
- Stable, full-time employment, including mentoring in financial management as wages are received;
- Fundamental life skills training, including cooking, driving, CPR, and more;
- Affordable, accessible housing, which the initial cohort will assist in the construction of; and,
- Transportation, counseling, and other critical support services participants will need for stability and successful employment.
“We are a community development organization, so we understand the interconnected nature of the social fabric of life. As bad as the numbers are and the conditions are, there are pockets where people are paying attention and working towards a new day. We believe in the Next Gen WV project,” said Seaman.
ARC is proud to support New Vision Renewable Energy in this innovative, forward-thinking, preventative approach to Appalachia’s SUD crisis. By engaging and empowering at-risk youth today, New Vision will increase the number of Appalachian adults who will contribute to communities and local economies for years to come.
In September 2023, ARC announced nearly $14 million in INSPIRE awards, which brought us to a grand total of nearly $46 million invested in recovery-to-work projects. Learn more about the awards.