Aging Out Institute is a social enterprise dedicated to connecting foster youth – and those who work with them – with resources and strategies that help youth age out of foster care and into adulthood successfully. Below is an overview of AOI’s history and future plans.
PHASE 1: AOI WEBSITE (2010-2017)
In 2010, Aging Out Institute (AOI) was created as a website that served as a central repository for resources (programs, organizations, projects, tools, training, events, etc.) designed to help youth age out of foster care and into adulthood successfully. Aging Out Institute provided resources primarily for four groups of people:
- Foster youth approaching the age of 18
- Former foster youth who recently aged out of the system
- Foster parents
- Professionals who work with foster youth (e.g., social workers, psychologists, guidance counselors)
The number of visitors to the website grew every year. Visitors started to reach out to AOI’s founder, Lynn Tonini, with questions about resources in their areas. It was apparent that people were using the site and needed the information it provided. In 2016, AOI upgraded its website with a search form to make it easier to find resources. In addition, a submission form was added so that organizations can submit their programs to the AOI search results database.
PHASE 2: AOI BEST PRACTICE AWARD PROGRAM (2018-2020)
In 2018, AOI is going to launch an awards program that will recognize foster parents and organizations around the country for the great work that they are doing to help foster youth age out of foster care and into independence successfully. We want to identify and share the strategies of those who are finding success so everyone in foster care can learn and benefit from them.
These awards will be open to:
- Foster parents
- Organizations that provide services to foster youth who are going to age out – or who have already aged out – of the system
Awards will be given for services, programs and/or strategies that:
- Help prepare youth for aging out
- Support youth after they have aged out
The award categories include:
- Supportive Relationships
After the awards are announced in August, 2018, the winners will be interviewed and their stories and strategies will be written up and shared on the AOI Website. At this point, AOI will initiate a membership model so members can log in, access and download the best practice papers, as well as sign up for webinars and Q/A sessions with award winners and experts on aging out of foster care. AOI will take a couple of years to focus on the new award program and membership structure to ensure they are running smoothly before moving onto Phase 3.
PHASE 3: AOI LIFE SKILLS CURRICULUM (2021-2023)
The plan for Phase 3 is to launch a video-driven life skills curriculum that will be available to AOI members. This curriculum will include courses that use workbooks, leader guides, and videos to help teach youth the basics of living independently. It will be ideal for foster parents or mentors to use while working with youth, but it will also be possible for youth to take the courses independently.
ABOUT THE FOUNDER
I’ve always been an optimist – a silver lining, light at the end of the tunnel, glass is half full kind of person. Even when I was a teenager and was placed in the North Carolina foster care system with my younger sister (I was in 10th grade and she was in 9th), I was able to tap into my optimism and remain hopeful for the future. We moved to a group home in another town for a few months, leaving the school where we had attended for seven years and saying goodbye to all our childhood friends. Then we were moved to an emergency shelter where two year-long beds had opened up, and we stayed there for several more months.
In the middle of my junior year, our uncle was able to make arrangements for us to move from North Carolina to Maryland where we lived a short time with our grandmother, changing schools yet again. She felt she was too old to take care of two teenage girls, and in the summer before my senior year, my uncle again stepped in and made arrangements for us to move in with his in-laws (my aunt’s brother and sister-in-law) who happened to be foster parents in the Pennsylvania system at the time. We didn’t know them, but they took us in and we have been part of their family ever since.
We were among the fortunate ones. Too many youth in foster care do not have the support that we had and they struggle tremendously with the transition to adulthood, and that is why I started Aging Out Institute (AOI) in 2010. I wanted to give back, and I decided to do so by tapping into my computer and project management skills, creating a way online to connect foster youth across the country with resources that can help them prepare for aging out and that will support them after they age out. As you can see above, I remain an optimist and I have big plans for AOI. I look forward to continuing this work over the years by building out AOI’s capacity to serve foster youth and the dedicated professionals who work with them.
Lynn Tonini, M.Ed., CPLP