HELENA – About 60 Montana teens in foster care are spending the week in Helena, learning skills that will help them navigate their life after high school graduation.
They are taking part in the 14th annual Reach Higher Montana Summit at Carroll College. The event gives kids a chance to learn firsthand what it’s like to be a college student, and it helps them develop other life skills.
“This is a time for them to be a kid for once – to have a nice relaxation time, to make friends – but overall to know that they have so many people behind them, supporting them for each step in their way, along their journey,” said Kassidy Geehan, one of the event facilitators. She works with FosterClub, a group that aims to help kids in care reach their full potential.
On Wednesday, the teens took part in an activity called “Independence City.” They were given simulated real-world challenges like applying for a job, seeking financial aid for college or filing their taxes. They then practiced accessing the services that could help them, from banks and employment agencies to the post office.
“I want them to take away that they have all these resources,” Geehan said.
Montana Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney was among the volunteers assisting with the Independence City program. He took on the role of a lawyer.
“It’s been a lot of fun spending time with these kids,” he said. “They’re active, they’re smart, they’re asking the right questions – they’re having fun, but they’re taking it seriously. I think the outcome is going to be really good; they’re going to go away with some great tools.”
Last year, Geehan was a participant at the summit herself. She said it had a big impact on her, especially in getting her thinking about college.
“They helped me with the little things applying to college,” she said. “So, going from ‘I’m not going to college,’ turned out to having my first year paid off completely.”
She encouraged kids currently in care to consider applying to take part in the summit. Reach Higher Montana will begin taking applications next March. This year, more than 80 teens applied.
The summit is a partnership between Reach Higher Montana and the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services.
-Jonathon Ambarian reporting for MTN News