By John Hall
Photos by Nathan Chandler
In 2011, Steven Lukas could no longer live as he once had.
That year, he turned 18 and became one of the 26,000 young adults who aged out of the foster system in the United States*. With that, he was alone.
Young people in the foster care system have a variety of resources available to them after they get out, including financial help for college and assistance in transitioning to living on their own. But the path to access these services and navigate their new freedom can be daunting for a teenager. Steven needed a trusted friend to help.
He found that in Autumn Barraza, Buckner aftercare case manager at the Bruce Ford Transition Center in Amarillo. She opened a door to a support system of people who cared about Steven and offered help.
“When I’m sitting here in this office and I’m talking with Autumn, or anyone else for that matter, it’s not client and provider; it’s me and Autumn, me and that other person, first-name basis, you can talk about things freely,” he said. “You don’t feel like you’re sitting through a business transaction. You feel like you’re actually talking to a friend, family, someone you know.”
With Buckner’s help and lot of hard work, Steven has organized his life. He balances working as a correctional officer with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and being a student at Amarillo College, where he’s pursuing a computer networking cyber security degree. Still, he has time for friends, a girlfriend, a Labrador-German Shepherd, a parakeet and, of course, video games.
In between the relationships and activity, Steven finds a way to what he’s increasingly passionate about – helping young people in the foster care system. He’s happy to visit with teenagers about their situation. He shares with people who are aging out of the system. He understands what they are looking for and tries to provide it – just like Buckner has for him.
“Steven is a very unique individual,” Barazza said. “He is very driven. He’s very focused. He’s very determined. And he isn’t afraid to ask for assistance. When he is struggling, whether it be with finances or just normal day-to-day issues, he comes and he asks for help.”
The Buckner Aftercare program can minister to as many as 52 young people at a time. Each person who walks into the Bruce Ford Transition Center has different specific issues, but all of them have one fundamental need: support.
“I would like to shine hope for these kids by providing a good, healthy, strong support system,” she said. “I’d like to be there for guidance. I’d like to be there for just bad days, good days. I want them to know that we are here no matter what happens. We will always be here. And we’re never here to judge. We’re always here to help you through the good and the bad of everything.”
Steven credits much of the satisfaction in his life to Buckner’s work through aftercare.
“I know wherever I decide to turn in life, whatever path I go down, that I will have someone there helping me,” he said. “I won’t be doing this on my own. And throughout the entire time I’ve been there, I haven’t been on my own. It’s always been good having someone there for you.”
*From the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
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