What began as a calling to mentor teens in the foster care system has now expanded into a foundation and a home for teens who have aged out at 18 years old. Brandon resident Erin (O’Grady) NeSmith, a certified professional coach and mentor, guides teens who are getting ready to age out of group homes and transition into adulthood.
NeSmith described how her experiences as an educator and time working with juvenile justice led her to establish her foundation in 2016. She recognized the gaps in ‘the system’ and felt God placed this mission of mentorship in her heart. As a life coach that specializes in trauma, NeSmith brings consistency and stability to their chaos.
Every week, NeSmith visits group homes throughout the Tampa Bay area. The goal of the foundation is to prepare teens for adulthood before they leave the foster care group home. However, she spends much of her day also assisting teens who have already aged out. Through life coaching, she helps teens finish high school, encourages them to make healthy decisions and educates them on the state’s extended foster care benefits.
“I help them shift their perspective,” explained NeSmith. “I tell them that ‘I can’t change your circumstances, but I can help you change the way you see them.’”
Every year, nearly 26,000 teens age out of foster care. A recent study was conducted in the Midwest found that by age 26, between 31 to 46 percent of these former foster care teens were homeless at least once. Furthermore, an estimated 80 percent of foster youth suffer from a mental health issue.
In March 2018, NeSmith was honored as a Lightning Community Hero and received a $50,000 donation from the Lightning Foundation. That following December, NeSmith used the funds to establish the Oak House for boys in Brandon.
NeSmith’s father owned the Oak House property, which was renovated for its new purpose with materials generously donated by Chadwell Homes. The property is maintained by NeSmith’s father and her church family from Element Church where her husband, Benjamin co-pastors. Currently, four former foster care teens (ages 18, 19, 19 and 20) live in the home and receive life coaching and life skills training.
“The solution is a community-supported and coach-supported home,” said NeSmith. “I want Oak House to be the model for all the other aged out homes in Hillsborough County, but funding is the main blockade.”
To find out how you can help or donate to the Grow Into You Foundation, visit www.growintoyoufoundation.org.