EVIT plans residence hall for foster youth

(Special to the Tribune)

Thanks for a $10 million item in the current state budget, the East Valley Institute of Technology hopes to open a residence hall for foster teens on its downtown Mesa campus by the 2023-24 school year.

EVIT Superintendent Dr. Chad Wilson said this is just the first step in changing the lives of foster youth by giving them not only a place to live but also a place where they can learn a trade and earn certification in it by the time the age out of the system.

“It’s our belief that by having those individuals in a safe living space… we begin leaning into being able to truly change their life,” he said in an interview.

Wilson said the school still is working on construction plans, but the residence would hold 64 beds and possibly eight shared-living areas similar to most modern university dormitories.

Some other ideas Wilson said they will look at including utilizing the current training and facility space to create amenities such as a grass field or basketball courts for extracurricular activities.

“What we’re wanting to be mindful of is that we’re funded by our taxpayers,” Wilson said.

While the state allocation will fund construction, EVIT will have to pay for the residency’s operation.

EVIT currently works with some foster care organizations, including Foster360 and Hope & A Future, but the school hasn’t begun to seek out partnerships for the residence hall yet.

Wilson, EVIT superintendent for the past four years, said his inspiration for the residency hall came from visiting a similar facility in Orange, California.

“This is a space that we want these individuals to be able to live in and to grow and thrive in – and exit from with a better footing underneath them to go out into our communities and be productive,” he said.

While participating in career and technical education programs on EVIT’s campus, resident foster youth would rely on the Paul Revere Academy, an offshoot of Heritage Academy, for traditional high school classes on the same campus. The charter high will give preferential placement to foster youth.

Wilson said this will enable students to acquire high school diploma, a trade certification and/or dual-enrollment credits for community college.

“It’s our belief that at EVIT, we change lives,” Wilson said. “That we change lives by loving our students and serving our communities.”

State officials reported that in the 2021-22 fiscal year, 841 teens aged out of the state foster care system.

EVIT’s program will help provide foster youth with more stability, consistency and opportunities as they transition into adulthood, Wilson said.

In addition to enrolling in EVIT’s adult career training programs, the students will receive social, emotional and mental health support services and learn life skills such as financial planning and nutrition.

In 2021, EVIT started a foster care program that allows youth who are getting ready to transition out of foster care to take an EVIT program while they finish their GED.

Wilson said some foster students are not in high school equivalency programs but rather attend a traditional East Valley high school while also attending EVIT.

Wilson touted the work of the EVIT Governing Board in looking for innovative pathways to support the community.

Also, Wilson thanked the work of state Reps. Steve Kaiser, Michelle Udall, and Rusty Bowers in helping to allocate the funds.

“That anchor has allowed us to lean into space that is good for students, is good for our communities and is good for the state,” Wilson said.