Embrace Alabama Kids helps foster youth with college expenses 

Now there’s a weeklong recognition of their work

Embrace+Alabama+Kids+volunteers+and+community+members+collaborated+with+three+Alabama+cities+to+piece+together+a+mural+in+recognition+of+Child+Abuse+Prevention+month.+Courtesy+of+Luke+Powell

Embrace Alabama Kids volunteers and community members collaborated with three Alabama cities to piece together a mural in recognition of Child Abuse Prevention month. Courtesy of Luke Powell

Monica Nakashima, Contributing Writer

Embrace Alabama Kids is a nonprofit faith-based organization dedicated to serving vulnerable children and families in crisis across the state, and its program extends to college-aged foster youth. 

Governor Kay Ivey recently established Embrace Alabama Kids Week, which will be celebrated April 11–17, 2021. 

“We can’t change the wrongs our children have experienced in the past,” Ivey said. “But can do what is right in the hopes of changing the trajectory of their future.” 

In 2019, Embrace served more than 1,500 children, teens, young adults and parents in the state. There are more than 28,000 incidents of child abuse and neglect reported to the Alabama Department of Human Resources annually. 

Embrace also helps Alabama foster youth fund their college expenses with their higher education programs. They are essentially support systems for college-aged foster youth. They have a live-in facility for men in Tuscaloosa and one for women in Florence. They are currently working to establish a co-ed location. 

These facilities are connected to the University of Alabama, Stillman College, Shelton State Community College, the University of North Alabama and Northwest Shoals Community College. 

The program helps college youth with financial assistance not covered by the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or scholarships to offset the expenses of books, tuition and meals. The program is not restricted to foster youth. It also extends to youth who are living in alternative situations, like couch surfing or residing with non-immediate family members. 

Warren Wright is a junior New College student at UA who is a part of the Tuscaloosa location’s program. He was homeless during his first two years of college but used his status as a student to live in UA dorms when school was out. 

“I had to keep moving to different dorms over the breaks and during summer break,” Wright said. “I would have to take classes just to have somewhere to live.”

While some may think Wright’s situation is unique, an article by CW staff reporter Shahriyar Emami revealed that at least 30 students were homeless in December 2018 alone. Many of them used Alabama REACH as a key resource. 

As the costs of living for college students continue to rise nationwide, The University of Alabama is no exception. An estimate for the 2020-2021 semester on the financial aid page lists $25,390 as the cost for a full-time in-state undergraduate student’s tuition, housing and fees. Adding indirect expenses such as books, transportation and other miscellaneous fees, the total cost is estimated at $31,080. 

One summer, Wright’s semester tuition loans hit a limit and he was no longer able to register for classes. Wright informed his advisor Jennifer Caputo of his situation. Caputo then coordinated with New College professor Dr. John Miller to introduce Wright to Alabama Reach and the Embrace program. 

At first, Wright was skeptical of the program due to how much support they were willing to offer with only requesting a few exceptions from its residents. He said one of the main rules is that students must maintain at least a 3.0 GPA or risk being put under academic contract. 

“They pay for your tuition and free room and board so long as you make good grades and aren’t getting into trouble,” Wright said. “They told me when I joined the only thing they wanted in return was for me to succeed.”

Wright said Embrace has given him the resources to get his driver’s license and learn to cook, as well as other important skills he didn’t have the opportunity to learn before.

“If I need something for school, they have it covered,” Wright said. “Even if it’s not school related, if I need something and it’s important enough, they’ll work something out so that they can get it for me.”

Wright joined when the organization was known by its former name: United Methodist Children’s Home. An event hosted this weekend highlighted not only the organization’s new name, but also supported Ivey’s Embrace Alabama Kids week. 

Embrace Alabama Kids collaborated with the Tuscaloosa River Market to host a mural painting event during Saturday’s regular market hours. Community members were allowed and welcomed to paint on pieces of the mural board, which was located in the center of the marketplace. 

Luke Powell, Embrace’s foster care program manager for Tuscaloosa, said the mural in Tuscaloosa was part of a three-piece event, with the others in Birmingham and Mobile. The pieces will be shown together as a collaborative mural on April 14 in Montgomery. 

Powell said Saturday’s event was also to let the public know UMCH has changed its name to Embrace, showcasing how they have expanded to support multiple causes in the state. 

“Years ago we were the children’s home orphanage in Selma,” Powell said. “Over the years, we’ve really grown and expanded [to include] many different programs.” 

Powell said the best way to show support is through donations. Saturday’s event was especially important to showcase how community members can show compassion to vulnerable children in the Tuscaloosa community. 

“When we have those donations come in and we’re able to provide those different resources our kids need,” Powell said, “it’s very important for us to have that connection with people throughout the community.” 

Embrace is looking for more foster parents. Currently, the organization is hosting foster parent classes through virtual one-on-one meetings and is available for either singles or couples. They’re also offering a flexible weekend arrangement based on a schedule, rather than a full-time position. 

“We really want to get people involved with the kids and get them as many supports as possible,” Powell said. 

For more organizations to support throughout April, Powell recommended the Children’s Aid Society, Alabama REACH, Alabama MENTOR, Alabama Baptist Children’s Homes and Family Ministries or Specialized Alternatives for Families and Youth (SAFY) of Alabama.  

“We all have a similar message to embrace the kids of Alabama,” Powell said. 

More information about Embrace Alabama Kids can be found on their website. To learn about becoming a foster parent with the organization, please contact Luke Powell via his email at luke.powell@embracealkids.org