AUGUSTA, Maine — Advocates for youth in foster care gathered at the state house in Augusta Thursday to celebrate a program that helps kids who age out of the system.
Opportunity Passport provides critical financial support to hundreds of young Mainers transitioning to adulthood, many of whom have experienced homelessness or other challenges.
Through a partnership with the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, Jobs for Maine Graduates, and the Maine Youth Transition Collaborative, the program gives a boost to young people to help pay for everything from housing to education.
Money saved by young people enrolled in the program is matched dollar for dollar up to $1,000 a year. For example, if someone has $500 saved for car, Opportunity Passport provides $500.
The funding has now surpassed a total of $2 million and helped more than 700 people.
"Think about $2 million dollars and what that means," DHHS commissioner Jeanne Lambrew said. "That means money for a down payment on an apartment or house. It means a car that's needed to get to a job or college. It could also mean saving or investment for the future."
While youth traditionally age out of foster care at 18, in Maine they can opt into extended care until the age of 21.
Alexander Buzzell, who is now part of Youth Leadership Advisory Team, said the program not only helped him earn a degree and achieve a successful career in renewable energy, it gave him somewhere to go when he found himself living out of his car.
"This program is absolutely critical to my success," Buzzell told NEWS CENTER Maine. "There are so many points in my life that something as simple as $100 could have stopped me from being where I am today."
In addition to the money, Opportunity Passport also provides financial literacy courses and mentoring support.