Iowa program will help youths with the transition out of foster care

The American Home Finding Association is phasing in Opportunity Passport in Wapello County over the next few weeks.

Paying rent, buying a car or making investments for the future may seem like second nature for some, but for kids in foster care, they're daunting challenges.

Youths who are about to or have already aged out of the system are often left with little to no guidance or support financially. A program called Iowa Opportunity Passport provides these young people with matching funds, a $1 to $1 match up to $1,000 a year, to help with rent, car payments and general financial stability.

"It's really about helping them build assets for the future," said Steve Havemann, Project Manager for the Youth Policy Institute of Iowa. "A lot of times, these kids don't have mom or dad to help with the first car expense, the first housing expense, helping them transition to college or pay for an education, or even 20 bucks to fill up their tank. So this is an opportunity for them to save up to $1,000 a year to match for those approved assets like transportation, housing, education, insurance and investments to help them have a better and brighter future."

The program is for youths aged 16-25 who have been in foster care for at least 30 days after their 14th birthday. The American Home Finding Association already works with kids eligible for this program, so they are bringing Opportunity Passport to Wapello County.

"One of the biggest issues I see in my program every day is the lack of affordable housing in this area and one of the elements of the Opportunity Passport is to help them with first month's rent and deposit and to get them set up in safe, independent housing," said Holly Dommer, of American Home Finding Association.

Opportunity Passport is established in Polk County and already has over 100 participants, but it will be expanding; not only to Ottumwa and Wapello County, but hopefully Dubuque and Waterloo, as well. A strength of the program is that it doesn't require any modification to fit the needs of kids in different areas of the state.

"Kids who have aged out of foster care, a lot of them - all of them - have the same problems, just at different levels," Dommer said. "So it's a great, great program that I'm very excited to American Home Finding's going to have the opportunity to get to use and access because it just gives them added bonus of one more tool and community resource they'll be able to use and become self-sufficient."

Havemann said he hopes to add 40-50 more participants to the program over the next year and make Opportunity Passport state-wide in the next three to four years.

"This is really addressing a very specific niche, which is why I think it's got a lot of traction," he said. "We're very fortunate to be able to partner with American Home finding and Holly Dommer to be able to get this program up and running in Wapello."

There is an enrollment process and application for the program, but for more information or to learn how to apply, contact the American Home Finding Association at 641-682-3449.