By Tina Carter’s estimate, she has taken in more than 100 foster children over the past two decades, starting when she lived in the Denver suburb of Aurora, Colorado.
“I’ve been a foster care provider for 22 years,” Carter said earlier this week. “I didn’t go out to be a foster parent. I was a youth worker, and one of the girls in our church got put in a shelter. I went and got her, and it snowballed after that. It just kept coming.”
Carter said as she took children into her home, she became concerned about the well-being of the girls who aged out of the foster care system once they reached age 18. Many, she said, had no family support and were faced with the challenges of living on their own at a young age.
Carter, 57, said she launched a nonprofit called You Can Begin Again in 2010 while she was still living in Colorado. The objective was to provide a residential living facility for young women ages 18 to 25 who had been in foster care but were now out on their own.
Leaders of You Can Begin Again, which Carter said is a faith-based organization, would work with the young women, helping them learn how to find jobs, budget their money and become self-sufficient before being able to set out on their own.
In the process, she said, the program can help young women avoid becoming homeless, victims of human trafficking or incarcerated after being caught stealing things like food from stores.
After moving to Topeka, Carter in November 2018 started a new location for You Can Begin Again at a three-story, 11-unit apartment building at 1316 S.W. Western that she is leasing exclusively for her program.
She said she has five young women in the program at present,but is looking for more participants.
“I have four openings that I need to fill by the end of June,” she said. “We’re the only ones who can use the property, and we don’t want the owner to give the property away.”
She said another program, called You Can Begin Again Too, is designed for young women who aged out of foster care and who have young children.
Those in the program live rent-free for the first six months, paying only their share of utilities. After six months, the women pay $150 a month for rent. Then, after 18 months, the rent increases to $250 a month. The goal is to help the young women gain control of their finances.
“We’re not enabling the young women,” said Carter, who serves as executive director of You Can Begin Again. “We’re empowering young women.”
Still, the program needs donations to remain afloat. Carter said she has started Project 3000 as a fundraising arm of the organization. The goal of the fundraiser is to find 3,000 people who will donate $5 per week, $20 per month or $260 per year.
“We’re trying to let people know we’re here,” said Carter, who works full time at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas. “We can’t do it by ourselves.”
As this is a fairly new area of social service work, she said, not many grants are available.
She said she would like to see the program expand to other Kansas communities and hire additional staff members to help run the various residential facilities.
Since starting in Topeka, she said, “We’ve had our ups and we’ve had our downs. We’re ironing out all the wrinkles.”
A member of Open Arms Outreach Ministries church, 2401 S.E. 11th, Carter said You Can Begin Again is a way for her to put her faith into action.
“It’s just my heart,” she said. “I’m a missionary.
“If Jesus wasn’t in it, I wouldn’t be doing it. He’s the one who keeps me grounded through all the trials. I can do anything and everything because he’s involved.”
Carter said she has one biological daughter and one adopted daughter. But she actually considers herself to have seven daughters and three sons, including children she cared for through foster care who have remained a part of her family.
One of the young women she has taken under her wing is helping her at You Can Begin Again.
Rachel Thomas, 30, who met Carter in Colorado, is assisting with the young women in the Topeka program.
Thomas said You Can Begin Again takes a hands-on approach in working with young women, helping to meet their needs so they can become self-sufficient.
For more information, call Carter at 720-300-0029 or visit www.youcanbeginagain.org.