Higher education – and student loans – can be a daunting prospect for any young adult. But for 18-year-olds who have just aged out of the foster care system, attending a college or university might simply feel impossible.
Fortunately for Hayley Houk, she had what many young adults aging out of the foster care system did not: resources. Houk had just graduated high school in 2014 when she received a phone call that would change her life.
“It was the funniest phone call I think I’ve ever had in my life,” Houk said. “He was like, ‘My name’s Eric. I’m the executive director for Realities for Children Boulder County. Would you like to go to school for free?’”
Houk was the first student to get a full-ride scholarship to CU Boulder through the Boulder County branch of the organization, and she credits the nonprofit for changing “the trajectory of [her] future.”
“It’s been incredible,” Houk said. “It’s definitely helped me build my confidence and given me access to resources that I wouldn’t have otherwise.”
The nonprofit works to offer young adults – ages 16 to 26 who are about to age out of the foster-care system or recently have – the resources to help them become independent members of society.
Although the organization has been operating under the Realities for Children Boulder County name, they are currently transitioning to the name True North Young Adult Services come February. The nonprofit’s goals with the rebranding efforts are to release the Boulder County limitation, expand into the Denver area, and focus on the young-adult age group directly impacted by the sudden lack of support after aging out of foster care.
True North Young Adult Services will still offer much of the same programs and opportunities as they have in the past. These offerings include programs and events meant to provide the young adults with fundamental life skills relating to finances, nutrition, self-care, time-management, and professional development. They will also continue awarding scholarships for higher education, which vary year-to-year depending on funding.
They awarded nine scholarships in 2020 and currently support 10 students in higher education – six at CU Boulder, two at Front Range Community College, one at CSU Pueblo, and one at MSU.
But True North goes beyond financial support and life-skills education. They also have a transitional housing program in Boulder called the Polaris House that offers reduced rent rates to five or six people at a time. The program also requires that first-year residents only pay half of their rent – the rest of which goes into a savings account for them to access once they’re ready to move out.
The move to rebrand as True North and expand into the Denver area comes as a response to better understanding the population they are serving most effectively.
“I think there’s a pretty core population there who could benefit from our services,” President of True North Merix Gustin said. “Most of our students who don’t live at Polaris actually don’t live in Boulder – partially because they can’t afford to live in Boulder, partially because they have family connections in other places.”
“A lot of our state-agency partners that we’ve been collaborating with are in different counties so, for me, part of my one-to-five-year vision for this group is that we’re actively serving people outside of Boulder County.”
Houk understands the population they are trying to serve better than most as both a recipient and now as an employee. While finishing up her psychology and sociology studies at CU Boulder, Houk has also taken on the role of business development director for the nonprofit.
“I think, generally speaking, our services are really unique to Colorado,” Houk said. “Speaking from somebody who’s lived this experience, there’s not really a lot of resources out there that support this age range.
“When you turn 18 when you’re in foster care, you pretty much lose every sort of resource that you have, and so that’s kind of where we come in, to make sure that there’s that continuous support into their adulthood.”
Along with providing their services to people in Denver, True North will also be looking to connect with local businesses in the area. The organization operates as a cause-marketing nonprofit, and has a three-tier membership program for local businesses and entrepreneurs to join. True North provides various marketing and advertising services in return for the financial support from the membership. True North logo inclusion is one of their most common offerings.
“The point of marketing them in the community, like having ad space for them, is to show the community that they’re doing something good so that they should be supported in return.”
The Denver North Star is one of those local businesses joining the True North community as a media partner; you’ll see periodic ads for the organization highlighting business partners. If you’d like to learn more about the nonprofit, make a donation, or join their private partnership as a business or entrepreneur, please visit their website at rfcbc.org. (Expect name change to be fully implemented in February.)