Monday Feb 20 2012
Taylor House offers direction for emancipated foster youth
By: ToLewis, The Press Tribune
On the surface, Tarshianna Clark appears to live the life of just about any other 19-year-old college student. A look below the surface, however, reveals a very different story. Clark and her four brothers became part of the foster care system when she was 5 years old after their mother, who was addicted to drugs, was deemed an unfit parent. Growing up in the foster system had its challenges, the teenager said, but perhaps no challenge as big as what she was going to do when she turned 18. According to California law, when a foster child turns 18, they are “aged out,” or emancipated, from the foster system and left to fend for themselves. Many laws and programs are in place to help these teens transition into the “real world,” and Lisa Peat understands this predicament as well. Peat is the founder, owner and operator of the Taylor House, a home situated near downtown Roseville that is designated specifically for girls who are recently emancipated from the foster care system. Clark, who moved in Jan. 20, is the home’s first resident. Clark, who is a student at Sierra College, said that living in a dormitory at her college would cost upwards of $3,000 per semester. “That’s just too much,” she said. “When you could find a house that (is run by) someone who actually cares and takes their own money to help us out, that means a lot.” She now pays $300 a month for her own private bedroom with full access to what she calls her own little “doll house.” Clark is the first one of her siblings to go to college, and she says that her current living arrangements go a long way in helping her realize her ultimate goals. She said she is studying biological science with the hopes of becoming a pediatrician. “I want to be able to provide for my kids like my mom couldn’t do,” she said. “That starts with going to school and making a career.” Peat said she had a vision for the Taylor House, which formerly was a transitional home for men who were recently released from jail, from the moment she walked into it. The 2,100-square-foot, two-story house was built in 1925 and contains six bedrooms, two bathrooms, a media room and a fully functioning kitchen. “At first, I said to my Realtor, ‘What on earth am I going to do with all these bedrooms?’” Peat said. “And then it just came to me, and we worked it from there.” Peat began working with foster teen girls when she was a court appointed special advocate (CASA) for foster children in Placer County. She said she soon realized that as the girls were approaching the age of 18, many of them did not have the life skills necessary to be independent. Peat says that might be one reason why 50 percent of foster children either end up homeless, in prison or dead after they are emancipated. Two percent of emancipated foster children graduate from college, Peat said. The renovation of the home required what Peat referred to as an “army of volunteers,” who spent more than three months in restoration. “We took out three to five tons of garbage,” Peat said. “You just can’t believe the garbage that was in here. We did a major transformation.” Peat recruited volunteers from the CASA program, friends and family to work on renovating the home and she relied on many donations to furnish it. Granite Bay residents Liz and Jim Reego, owners of six La-Z-Boy Furniture Galleries stores in Northern California, also donated nearly $12,000 worth of furniture to the home, including a sofa, leather chair, chaise lounge and a variety of home decor accessories. Girls who wish to live at the home are typically found through local colleges and Placer County’s Independent Living Program, which aims to teach foster youth life skills once they turn 16, Peat said. Young women chosen to stay at Taylor House are required to be actively employed, pay their rent on time, remain drug and alcohol free and abide by house rules. Peat said she intends to apply for nonprofit status for the Taylor House soon. “House mom” Mary Tobin lives at the home full time and is responsible for teaching the girls practical skills such as cooking and cleaning. Her other function is to maintain order. “My personal goal is to help them understand that they are valuable to everybody,” Tobin said. “I won’t be a taxi, but if they are in a bind, they know I have their back.” While Clark is currently the only girl taking advantage of the low rent, Peat says that she is sorting through applications and expects the house to be fully occupied soon. “Kids are the lifeblood of our future,” Peat said. “And (foster children) have already had issues of abuse, abandonment or neglect. It’s just important that we look after them.” Toby Lewis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @TobyLewis_RsvPT.