ORLANDO, Fla. – Birthdays should be a fun, exciting occasion but for kids in foster care, turning 18 could be a frightening reality check.
You see, for many, that’s the day they’re on their own — whether they’re ready or not.
But this week’s Getting Results award winner is there to help. She’s offering services that can change the course of their lives.
Pamela Bress, executive director of Ready For Life Brevard, created a “drop-in” center where young adults between 15 and 25 years old can get services that range from help with housing, jobs and mental health.
“Our ultimate goal is to help young adults and teenagers who are aging out get launched into success,” Bress said from the offices in Melbourne.
Bress spent 10 years as senior counsel with Brevard County Legal Aid prior to launching the nonprofit 16 months ago.
“My eyes were opened up when I became their attorney,” Bress remembered. “I realized we all need to come together and help these youth that don’t have a supportive network.”
Bress said that when kids in foster care turn 18, they are considered adults in the eyes of the law and for some that means an abrupt exit from foster care services.
“I had been complaining basically for 10 years. What’s going to happen to my clients, where are they going, where is the housing, where are the jobs.” Bress continued. “They still don’t have their high school diploma. I just kept on saying, ‘Is anyone doing anything about this?’”
Finally, it was Bress who stepped up with a solution inspired by another center across the state, Ready For Life Pinellas.
“They’ve proven themselves and we saw what they do and said we need this in Brevard.”
Keirra Elliott ,17, was at the center exploring her housing options. “I’m going to be 18 soon and that’s scary,” Elliott said. “You don’t know where your life is going to go. You’re so used to being in a system, you don’t know what to do. I still feel a little scared that I have to move out on my own.”
Elliott says she plans to go to law school with the help of Bress and the staff of Ready For Life Brevard.
“She kind of helped me through the rough patches,” Elliott said. “Every person here has a heart, Pam especially. It’s almost like what she was called to do.”
Bress was nominated for the News6 Getting Results Award by volunteer Kim Pepper. “I want people to know what a great job Pam is doing here,” Pepper continued. “The good work she’s doing for the youth in this community.”
Pepper said she knows first hand how hard it is to try to figure out life when you don’t have a support system.
“I was in foster care briefly as a young person. It was devastating and traumatic even though it was brief. It was something that stuck with me,” she said.
Pepper said she volunteers at Ready For Life Brevard’s clothing closet three or four days a week to show her support.
“There’s a lot of kids everywhere that need help and they’re not disposable,” Pepper said. “They’re having a hard time and they need help. This is one place that they can come.”
Members say the offices are like home and to some extent they look that way too. Couches, table games and a small kitchen are available.
Paige Basich dropped in with some friends. The group has been living in a car and were hoping to find a more stable option.
Ready For Life Brevard partners with the Housing Authority of Brevard County to help members find affordable housing.
“It’s like a second chance,” Basich said. “These people, they show you that you matter and that your life is important, that there’s someone out there that still cares.”
Bress says Ready For Life Brevard is privately funded and is always in need of donations. If you think you can help, visit their website at: readyforlifebrevard.org