"A program to help young men aging out of foster care and court-ordered juvenile justice facilities launched Saturday near Taneytown.
Young men ages 18 to 21 accepted into Manasseh House — a fledgling nonprofit working in collaboration with the Carroll County-based Silver Oak Academy — will receive transitional housing and develop individualized plans to become self-sufficient by enrolling in college or the military or learning a trade.
They can stay in the program for up to two years, and while participating they must cook, clean, budget their expenses and provide community service.
Founder Gianna Talone-Sullivan said youths who leave government-run programs without family support are at risk of becoming homeless or ending up in jail. To start, the program will accept "one or two" young men graduating from Silver Oak, a private residential facility contracted by the state to educate and rehabilitate juvenile offenders, she said.
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"When that ends, there is some uncertainty about what come next," Talone-Sullivan said. "We want to make them independent. This is something to build their self-esteem and help them feel proud."
Talone-Sullivan said Manasseh House is paying to use space on Silver Oak's 75-acre campus. She estimated that the program would cost about $30,000 for each participant, but said the cost could vary depending on an individual's needs.
Kevin McLeod, who runs Silver Oak, said the campus has the space and a structure to support Manasseh House. Declining to name one of the first young men to enroll in the new program, McLeod said Manasseh House will guide the youth on a path for success.
"He is a kid who is training to be a nurse — he wants to be a registered nurse — and has to have the ability in short order to take care of himself," McLeod said. "He doesn't have that home base to live in and save up and get the skills and then transition; he's got to be able to do both."
McLeod joined a group of other officials for the launch ceremony Saturday, Talone-Sullivan said.
Jay Cleary, chief of staff for the state Department of Juvenile Services, said when young people leave residential treatment programs, they have individualized re-entry plans and are assigned a community case manager to help them implement their plan.
The agency "appreciates the Silver Oak Academy's innovative approach in its work with youth involved in the juvenile system," said the collaboration with Manasseh House will give the youth "additional skills to help them succeed in the community and contribute to safer neighborhoods across Maryland," Cleary said in a statement.
Talone-Sullivan, a retail pharmacist who previously founded a nonprofit that provides free medical care and dental work, said she was inspired to establish Manasseh House after seeing young people struggle over the years. So far, she said, the nonprofit has raised $60,000 in private donations.
The program will rely initially on volunteers to work with the youth and hopes to raise enough money to move to its own property in the future.
"I started noticing young people on the streets that were aging out of the foster care system and they were needing medications for depression and anxiety and anger management," she said. "They were not yet ready to support themselves and they had no support structure to assist them. What would happen is, they would just revert back to old ways."
Ultimately, Talone-Sullivan said she would like to serve a dozen young men, but she was reluctant to provide a specific goal, saying the evolution of the program will depend on the needs of the individuals enrolled in it.
She said the program will build a network made up of case workers, schools and community organizations to find participants.
"I am not looking for a number; I am looking to change one person's life," she said.
Chuck Hatter, who will serve as Manasseh House's chief executive officer, said the program will use counselors to help the youth write resumes, practice public speaking and prepare for job interviews.
"We are going to fill in the gap," Hatter said. "We are going to take over where publicly funded programs leave off. We hope to improve the odds by giving them an alternative that will either teach them a trade, or help them out with future education, schooling."