A university alumnus created a non-profit organization that aims to help children and young adults in the Texas foster care system.
Class of 2009 graduate Evan Berlin helped create The Constellation Foundation in October of 2011. He serves on the board of directors.
“We are the first foundation that supports kids in foster care on a state-wide basis,” Berlin said.
The foundation seeks to improve the outcomes of children in foster care by creating a sustainable network of peers and mentors across the state, Berlin said.
The foundation provides mentoring, college planning and career counseling for children in the foster care system and young adults who leave the system. It utilizes a scholarship fund, numerous partnerships, and a camp for foster care youth.
The flagship program of the Constellation Foundation is Camp Constellation, Berlin said.
Camp Constellation is a camp for children ages 10 to 17. They come from all over the state in the Texas foster care system, according to the camp’s website.
The camp provides activities like swimming, paintball, archery, biking, horseback riding and a climbing wall, Berlin said. The camp sessions take place at a site in Burton, which is located between Houston and Austin.
The first camp was held earlier this year in May and another will occur later this month, Berlin said.
“By 2013, we hope to be running three camps a year,” Berlin said.
Berlin said the camp helps the campers learn to trust others and develop relationships and connections all across the state.
“They’re not labeled," Berlin said. "They are surrounded by other kids in foster care."
There are approximately 16,000 children in the foster care system in the state of Texas, according to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.
While Berlin worked at a non-profit in Dallas after graduation, he said his interactions with children in foster care made him realize the difficulties of being in the foster care system.
“Some of them would have eleven different homes from time they were ten to eighteen,” Berlin said. “Some didn’t know who their brothers and sisters were.”
Individuals who “age out” of the foster care system at age 18 often face significant challenges, Berlin said.
At the end of their time in foster care, some could be one to five years behind in school because of moving so much, Berlin said.
“Youth transitioning out of foster care are at high risk of becoming homeless,” according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness website. This group attributes increased homelessness among foster care youth to a lack of support systems and a lack of opportunities for work and housing.
“Twenty five percent of former foster youth nationwide reported that they had been homeless at least one night within two-and-a-half to four years after exiting foster care,” according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness.
Berlin said the Constellation Foundation seeks to improve these statistics by providing a network of mentors and other children in foster care.
“The network that they develop through our programs provides them with the foundation that they can rely on year after year,” Berlin said.