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200+ Foster Teens Age out of Arkansas State Care Every Year: Ministry Aims to Help Them Transition to Adulthood

Immerse Arkansas equips teens and young adults through LifeBASE programs.

Eric and Kara Gilmore, who served as houseparents at a local group home in Arkansas, knew they had to do something after they watched in disbelief as one of the young women they had cared for was kicked out of foster care the day after her 18th birthday.

Meagan had lived in 50 placements while in foster care between the ages of 12 and 18. She had not been a legal adult for 24 hours before her case worker dropped her off at a Greyhound Bus Station in North Little Rock with a bag of clothes and one night’s worth of bipolar medication.

“The case worker dropped her off with a one-way bus pass to go to a family member she had not seen since she was 12,” Eric Gilmore told MinistryWatch.

“We thought, ‘Where is the church?’ But we knew that part of the responsibility was ours—we are the church,” he said.

Immerse Arkansas is a non-profit that prepares youth in crisis for adulthood through programs that offer shelter, mentorship, and training in multiple life skills.

The Gilmores first opened the doors of the non-profit in 2010 by providing supportive housing to aging youth.

By 2016, the organization expanded its services to support “youth in crisis,” including runaway and homeless youth, youth exiting DYS, and youth victims of trafficking and sexual exploitation.

The website says the transition to adulthood is already challenging, but many youths are also experiencing isolation, mental health issues, violent home lives, and unplanned pregnancy.

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Each youth who ages out of foster care costs society approximately $300,000 over their lifetime in public assistance, crime, and municipal costs. Over 200 youth in Arkansas will age out of the state’s foster care program each year, the website says.

Gilmore said Immerse Arkansas’ program LifeBASE focuses on preparing youth for adulthood, taking youth from crisis, and growing them into whole, healed, resilient adults. There is a track for teens, young adults, and young parents, and each focuses on four key components (making up ‘BASE’ in LifeBASE): being (as in, holistic well-being), adult-connection, safe and stable housing, and earning potential. The program is generally 18-24 months long.

Immerse Arkansas also runs a youth center, emergency shelter, and an alum support program.

Immerse Arkansas is a Christian Alliance for Orphans (COFD) member participating in COFD’s Aging Out Initiative.

Immerse’s most recent public 990 reports $4.3 million in revenue and $2.1 million in expenses, which the organization also published in their annual report.

Gilmore told MinistryWatch the organization has experienced significant revenue growth since 2020 and has been aggressively fundraising to build a youth shelter and launch more sites.

Immerse broke ground on the shelter last week and is slated to open one new site this fall. The organization hopes to have 4-5 more locations throughout the state.

Gilmore expects to publish the new 2022 financial report this fall.

For those inclined to help, Gilmore encourages people to connect with their local DHS office or group home to ask if any teens are looking for a mentor. “Often the people who were supposed to be there for these young people were not,” he said. “The most impactful thing one can do is find and encourage one of these youth. Check on them, invite them into your life and network of friends and supporters.”

Immerse doesn’t always lead with the Gospel, but Gilmore says they take their responsibility “incredibly seriously.”

“There is so much polarization in the group we lead with, and we are on the frontlines,” he said. “Sometimes we have to go incognito to carry out the gospel in a place where young people have given up on the church.”

Main photo: Photo via Facebook / Immerse Arkansas

Jessica Eturralde

Jessica Eturralde is a military wife of 18 years and mother of three who serves as a freelance writer, TV host, and filmmaker. Bylines include Yahoo, Huffington Post, OC16TV.