A group of seven teenagers was the only reason Brandy Coty was still working as a caseworker with the Texas Child Protective Services (CPS). Brandy had spent three years in this intense role after interning at Dallas CASA, and now she was physically sick from the stress. She wanted to transition to a new career, but Brandy knew these seven teenagers would soon graduate from the foster care system and she wanted to be the one who would help them transition to adulthood.
The eighth case on Brandy's desk was a girl named Zoie. Just 13 years old, Zoie's experience in foster care had been difficult. Running away, being arrested, and falling into difficult relationships were the norm and Brandy's interventions had little effect. The situation weighed heavily on Brandy's heart, even after leaving CPS for a job teaching English in South Korea. She was a world away from the Texas foster care system, but the desire to help make a difference for young people like Zoie never faded. She knew this was her life's calling.
When Brandy returned from South Korea ten months later, she accepted a job as Competency Coordinator for the Mental Health Jail Diversion team at the Dallas County Courthouse. She regularly came in contact with juveniles from the foster care system who ended up in jail. Thoughts began running through her head about what it would take to open an official transitional house for teenagers who have aged out of the foster care system.
The decision to turn those ideas into reality came sooner than expected when she was suddenly laid off from her courthouse job. Brandy took several months looking at what it would take to start a transitional foster care home and made the decision to start Zoie's Place, an independent nonprofit dedicated to providing transitional services to homeless youth aging out of foster care. In November of 2016, Zoie's Place was granted official nonprofit status and at the end of that month the first resident moved into their small rental home in north Dallas.
Brandy accepts three girls at a time into the Zoie's Place home - a space she calls home as well. Empowering young women with the life skills needed to be successful is the primary goal. Each resident must find and hold a job, finish her high school diploma or GED, and then take at least one college class each semester. Volunteers visit the house weekly to teach life skills like cooking a new food, creating a budget,and starting a journal; all types of activities are needed. Brandy has also come up with a way to introduce new foods to the girls at Zoie's Place. Each girl picks a fruit or vegetable that she has never tried, then chooses a recipe from Pinterest. Brandy takes the girls shopping and they practice following the recipe to cook the new dish.
Girls come to Zoie's Place from the various community partnerships Brandy has formed over her career in social work, but she's certain that there is more to the selection. "God leads me to the right girl every time. He shows me who needs to be here," said Brandy. It is that faith that gives her strength to face the difficult situations that come with foster care and homelessness. And that faith is also giving her a vision for the future. Zoie's Place next step is to secure a duplex with separated spaces that allows for growth. Brandy is also creating a model program that can be duplicated in cities across the country.
And those seven teenagers that Brandy helped transition out of foster care? Each of them has either enrolled in college or has begun a successful career. Because of these seven, as well as the girls who have learned independence at Zoie's Place, Brandy can see that the possibility for impact is endless. Believing in one teenager at a time is truly changing the world.
If you would like to volunteer at Zoie's Place, contact their team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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