Links of Life Youth Conference

January 11, 2017

Links of Life Youth Conference: Building Connections That Will Last a Lifetime

Young men and women transitioning from child welfare and judicial systems need to create lasting connections to be successful as adults, and the Department of Human Services (DHS) has helped to host events over the years to engage these youth, including the recent Links of Life (LOL) Youth Conference in Des Moines

On November 1, 2016, the LOL Conference brought together DHS and dozens of community organizations to assist youth ages 16 to 24 that need support navigating systems and establishing a productive path to adulthood. The event, at the Corinthian Baptist Church in Des Moines, was attended by more than 60 youth who are currently involved with DHS or Juvenile Court Services, or who may have previously been adopted.  The event also welcomed youth who may be considered at risk or may have been involved in other youth resource and treatment programs.

Child welfare advocate and professional saxophonist Rusty Johnson , who grew up in foster care, served as the keynote speaker.  He addressed the importance of supports and making connections that can develop into life-long relationships.  During the event, Rusty’s former foster mom, also spoke with the group.

“The evening helped youth make connections and engaged them with youth of similar backgrounds,” said Jan Huff, a transition planning specialist for DHS. “By participating they also had the opportunity to connect with providers or vendors to learn more about what services are available in the community.”

The young men and women worked together to solve a puzzle during the event, and everyone received a gift from a prize drawing including items such as pots and pans, detergent, linens and other household goods that are useful as they head off to college and (or) establish their independent living situations. They also could win gift cards to places like Subway, Dominoes and Starbucks. Prizes were donated by local businesses and conference vendors, and food was served by Grimes United Methodist Church.

“Our overarching goal for the evening was that youth would feel more comfortable reaching out to access the resources they learned about,” said Huff.  “We wanted them to understand they are not alone on this journey, and we feel great about the participation we saw.”

Other DHS Service Areas have participated in similar events, or plan to, all with the goal of helping transitioning youth understand that resources are available to help them live safe, stable and productive lives in their communities.

In the Northern Service Area, a Future Fest event was held in Waterloo on October 25, 2016, and the Eastern Service Area held their event on October 12, 2016 in Davenport. The Cedar Rapids Service Area had a Future Fest event last March in Cedar Rapids, and the Western Service Area plans a similar event this coming spring at a location to be announced. 

“These types of events bring together our dedicated providers and the youth who can benefit from their services in a way that’s both helpful and fun,” said Wendy Rickman, administrator of Adult, Children and Family Services for DHS. “We thank our many partners for their outreach, and we thank these brave and hopeful young men and women who are working to make meaningful connections for a better future.” 

What Youth Are Saying About the Experience
"Foster kids have a chance and they can go anywhere in life with the resources"
"I have resources to succeed!"
"No matter what your situation, you can do anything"
"You have to find the missing piece"
"My past should just be positive motivation for my future"
"There is always help, you are not alone"
Vendors Included:
Dart, Young Women’s Resource Center, St Vincent DePaul, Woodward/Sequel Care, Young Women’s Resource Center, IA. Voc. Rehab, United Way (Bldg. New Careers), Woodward/Sequel Care, Drake Legal Clinic, DMACC HiSet, Planned Parenthood, Freedom for Youth, YSS, DMACC, Evelyn Davis Center, Iowa Workforce Development, Iowa Legal Aid, CFI, MEPS/ASVAB, Youth Policy Institute, YSS, Iowa Finance Authority, United Way, YSS, Evelyn Davis Center, Community Support Advocates, DMACC HiSet, AMP, Job Corps, Evelyn Davis Center, AMP, Iowa College Aid and Central Iowa Works