Kansas City program seeing success in helping kids aging out of foster care system land solid jobs

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — On any given Sunday, and most weeknights as well, in the heart of Kansas City, inside a workshop called Maker’s Village, a group of kids that have already faced enormous obstacles in life are learning something new.

“It has taught me that I can do a lot of things I never knew I could do…or things I thought I wouldn’t be able to do mentally,” said Casey Lehman.

Lehman is part of a program called “Build Trybe.” It’s designed to help under resourced kids and students aging out of the foster care system to learn skills that will help them land solid jobs.

Build Trybe is only 2-years-old. The idea is for mentors to teach kids skills in areas like horticulture, landscaping, culinary arts, metal and woodworking. 

Dom Ward is a mentor. Today he is teaching students how to make solid wooden cutting boards from planting to gluing to sanding, but the students under his tutelage are learning so much more.

“I have some similarities to the kids in the way I grew up as a child. I didn’t have anyone to help me not until I got to college. That’s a big gap. If I can step in before that and be somebody that they can count on, then why not?” Ward said. 

Operating as young apprentices to experienced mentors, 300 kids that might have been at risk for poverty, food insecurity or even homelessness are turning the tables on life’s disappointments.

Dante Williams is almost 18.  He said mentors from Build Trybe have changed the trajectory of his life.  

“It brings out opportunities by just being here. This is not just a workspace for one person, it’s a workspace for many people. You have people who come in here to do other types of work and they see you working on something and they say, ‘Hey that guy looks like he knows what he’s doing’. It puts you in the right place at the right time,” Williams said.

Statistics show that a typical child in foster care receives only about 40 percent of the resources and support that children who live with their parents receive. 

Theo Bunch is the director of Build Trybe. He is changing the statistics. 

“Foster care youth are all of our responsibility. I would say youth as a whole are, but this population even more so,” Bunch said.

While students in the Build Trybe program work with their hands, they are also building confidence and gaining real-world experience. It elevates them emotionally in a way that sets them apart from their peers. 

“We are starting to see a lot of them really land those jobs and advance vocational trade programs and land internships and start standing toe-toe with youth from much more privileged backgrounds,” Bunch said.

Casey Lehman said she came into the program with severe social anxiety. Now at 19 years old, mentors at Build Trybe have trained her, and changed her. She just received a full-time job offer in the conservation industry.  

“I didn’t think I would be able to do what I’m doing now and I can do it.” Pointing to her mentors Lehman said “They’re the ones who showed me how to do it” 

Build Trybe sells the products they make to support the program. They laser customize cutting boards, plant stands and coasters with names or logos for corporations or bridal parties. 

You can also find a group of them on Saturdays at the Downtown Overland Park Strawberry Swing, and online at Buildtrybe.com.

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