A strategic collaboration with state leaders can change the lives of foster care youths in West Virginia through 4-H youth development programs. Aetna Better Health of West Virginia partnered with West Virginia University Extension Service to provide funding for foster care youths interested in 4-H.
West Virginia started accepting proposals for the Mountain Health Promise Specialized Managed Care Program for Children and Youth. Jordan Pruett, a community development coordinator for Aetna and 4-H alumnus, was hopeful that Aetna would be awarded the funds to give back to youths in the state.
“We decided to provide a $50 membership fee to 4-H in order for a child in foster care to be able to join and participate in all the programs and go to county camp with that fee,” Pruett said.
Pruett hopes that by encouraging children in foster care to join the 4-H family, they will build life-changing connections. After aging out of the state foster care system, there is limited support for youths. For some, they are left alone and without a family.
“I really hope that 4-H would be that connection for them to be able to thrive and have those lifelong friendships – whether that be with adult mentors or youths their own age. I want them to prosper and have a rewarding life,” Pruett said.
Early brainstorming conversations were vital to making the program come to life. Pruett identified a group of key stakeholders who unanimously agreed an afterschool program would be the best way to accomplish their goals.
Susan Gamble, director of the West Virginia Statewide Afterschool Network, was an early adopter of the idea and worked closely with Pruett’s team to provide guidance on how this partnership could be a success.
Gamble said she felt 4-H was a great avenue to connect with youths and families through WVU Extension Service’s 55-county presence.
“We really want to give these youths tremendous opportunities to engage and build resilience and enhance their lives,” Gamble said. “Aetna’s partnerships ensure all foster children will have the chance to participate in the 4-H program.”
Nila Cobb, health promotion and youth risk specialist for WVU Extension Service, said a major issue affecting West Virginia youths, especially those in state custody, is the child welfare crisis in the state driven by the drug epidemic.
“West Virginia leads the nation in child removals with 85% of open child abuse or neglect cases involving drugs,” Cobb said. “With dedicated funding backing the enrollment and registration process for the West Virginia 4-H program, this will enhance our potential for growth in reaching children who may be isolated or underrepresented in 4-H programs.”
When working with the state’s most vulnerable youths, there are many unforeseen barriers in participation. Cobb said she believes these funds will assist in closing the opportunity gap for youths in foster care by allowing them to attend 4-H camps and becoming active 4-H members.
“Online registration processes, transportation and even personal care items and clothing can be potential issues for youths attending residential camps,” Cobb said. “This funding can help with not only camp registration, but also allow 4-H faculty to recognize other areas of need for youths that can be addressed.”
Cobb said even though our lives have changed drastically with canceled events, these funds can still be used.
“I think it’s important to know that this is part of Aetna’s contract, so even with the current situation, we are still going forward with this project. We can use it for things beyond camp,” Cobb said. “We can hold onto the funds for the 2021 season if something happens that we can’t find a way to use them this year.”
Brent Clark, program director, WVU Extension Service 4-H Youth Development, said one of the great things about this partnership is that the funds will directly affect foster youths and families by giving them the opportunity to be a part of 4-H camps and programs.
“This partnership will help our counties provide services to vulnerable populations. It is our hope that it will not only help individual youths and families but encourage more children in foster care to participate in 4-H,” Clark said.
Aetna’s commitment to this program is a wonderful example of how a 4-H alumni and volunteer used his professional experience to give back to the program and help reach even more youths in the state.
“I truly appreciate Jordan and his colleagues at Aetna for making this possible. He is a role model and example for other 4-H’ers and volunteers. He’s giving back to something that has given to him,” said Clark.
The gift was made through the WVU Foundation, the non-profit organization that solicits and administers private support on behalf of the University. To learn more about supporting WVU Extension Service programs, contact Lauren Seiler at 304-293-5692.
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