Growing up, Faith Santiago bounced between her mother’s house and foster care and eventually landed in a detention center.
There she was paired with her first Department of Children and Families worker who referred her to LISA Inc., or Living in Safe Alternatives, which provides programs for teenagers in state custody.
“My life pretty much changed from there,” said Santiago, 23, from Waterbury.
At LISA Inc., young adults are taught how to pay bills and do laundry. They also learn communication skills aimed at helping them get and keep a job. The non-profit organization in Southington was created 45 years ago in the memory Lisa Steinberg, who died of abuse at the hands of her adoptive parents.
“LISA Inc. serves young people who have unfortunately been spending most of their lives in the foster care system,” said Kim Selvaggi, executive director of Lisa Inc. “By no fault of their own they have been abused, neglected or abandoned by their families.”
A new Life Skills Academy is being launched to provide these same programs to teens who are not in state custody. The academy will include courses on how to pay bills, do laundry, prepare meals and stay on a budget. Teens will also learn how to properly manage medications and substance abuse prevention techniques.
Teachers, coaches, parents and peers can refer those in need to the program. Lisa Inc. hopes to raise the enrollment in their its programs by 20 percent by including the teens from surrounding communities.
“Maybe there’s troubles at home, maybe there’s some family struggles, there might be substance abuse or parents just working so much that they don’t have time to really attend to the kids’ needs,” said Selvaggi.
Teens entering the new academy will spend six months in group and one-on-one sessions, learning the life skills they need to become successful adults.
"Don’t be scared, they will help you out," said LISA Inc. graduate Marcus Pastuszak. "I know some kids are a little afraid of coming in but don’t be, it’s going to help you out in the long run and just have fun with it."
Pastuszak spent a year and a half working with LISA Inc. Santiago was there even longer and now works for Waterbury Youth Services, helping young people who are dealing with the same situations she once found herself in.
They both believe they would be in very different places if it weren’t for the program.
"Personally, I think I would be on the streets trying to find my way around," said Pastuszak.
"Probably in jail or - I would say dead," said Santiago.
If you know a teen who may benefit from these programs or you would like to volunteer, you can find out how at www.lisainc.org.