At some point, most adolescents transition into adulthood by moving out on their own, going to college or finding a job. But for young adults aging out of Oregon’s foster care system, those milestones can be particularly difficult to navigate, because they often have no support network to fall back on after the age of 21.
Julie Ibrahim, CEO of the Portland mental health nonprofit New Narrative, said 70% of foster youths are arrested by age 26, and many face homelessness if they aren’t adopted or reunited with their families.
“I think it’s the lack of a system to help them transition to adulthood,” Ibrahim said. “I mean, that’s difficult in the best of situations.”
New Narrative’s Compass Rose program offers clinical mental health services to young people ages 18-21 who are exiting the foster system, as well as a range of housing options and a property management team that helps residents comply with leases and manage their rent.
But it also provides unique peer mentorship in the form of Ascending Flow, a program that helps participants find creative outlets to express themselves. That program was started by Talilo Marfil in Southern Oregon in 2017. He partnered with Ibrahim to bring the program to Portland in 2019.
“In a city that boasts arts and music, I felt like it was really important to show how important expression is in terms of mental wellness and how it connects to that,” Marfil said.
Marfil and other Ascending Flow mentors have similar backgrounds to the participants they work with. They help participants explore their creative passions — whether it’s art, music, cooking or something else entirely — while also providing a safe space for them to open up.
“The first thing is building that rapport with them,” Marfil said. “Being vulnerable, being authentic, letting them know that you have scars and pain too — and you’re not alone in that.”
Not too long ago, Brayden Boyce was on the verge of homelessness. By the time he entered Compass Rose and joined the Ascending Flow program, he had been through 17 different state programs and foster homes.
“I’ve given so many people chances,” he said. “But the program, it gave me a chance that I could be open, I could be vulnerable. I could have an opportunity to really thrive and engage.”
Boyce has been able to make music and organize events through Ascending Flow. In addition to being an outlet for complicated feelings, Boyce said the program is also a way to simply enjoy himself.
“Having an opportunity to be able to have fun, that’s unheard of,” he said. “Not having to worry and being able to feel my emotions freely — I’ve never had something like that, and it’s amazing.”
Marfil said mentors also help participants with more practical concerns, such as finishing their education, practicing interview skills and applying for jobs.
No matter how they find it, the biggest things Marfil wants participants to take away from the program are “independence,” a “heightened self-worth” and “clarity on their passion.”
“[That’s] something that they can take with them,” Marfil said. “We can’t ensure that after this program, life isn’t going to hit them hard. But [it’s] just that reminder that they’re resilient, and they can tap into those coping skills when things happen.”
Julie Ibrahim, Talilo Marfil and Brayden Boyce spoke to “Think Out Loud” host Dave Miller. Click play to listen to the full conversation: