The Gift of a Good Home: Larry Owens' Story

Evidence-based programs and interventions provide stability and valuable resources for young adults aging out of foster care to help them successfully navigate this critical phase of their lives.

Many 16–24-year-olds aging out of the foster care system encounter obstacles on their journey to independence. Without familial support, these young adults struggle to maintain employment, secure housing, and pursue higher education. This population of youth disproportionately faces a systematic disadvantage void of the basic necessities that allow them to find stable footing.

Statistics published by the National Foster Youth Institute reveal that:

  • 20% of youth aging out of the foster care system will become homeless

  • 50% will not obtain gainful employment at 24 years of age

  • 7 out of 10 girls will become pregnant by the age of 24

  • 25% will be impacted by PTSD

  • Less than 3% will earn a college degree

Work-life programs are critical in meeting the needs of foster youth aging out of the system. These programs are designed to support and assist young adults during their transition to adulthood, proving to be the gift of a promising start and preparing our foster care graduates for life.

Larry Owens' Success Story: Building a Better Life

Dressed in his cowboy boots, black pants, and gray hoodie, Larry Owens emanates a Southern, carefree vibe. As soon as he smiles, it draws you in.

“When I first met Larry, he was outside in the yard. I walked up to him and the thing that most impressed me about him was his smile,” Sunnybrook’s Counselor Kenny Spansel said.

Described by staff as the "resident that’s as fun as can be," Owens chose to live at Sunnybrook because he wanted to attend traditional school and build a better life for himself.

"When I first came to Sunnybrook, I was a little on the hot head side. I didn’t have a care in the world. But I had a moment to look at the things I was doing, a realization of where my life would be if I was to keep doing the things that I did, how I acted towards people. I was just all about myself, really,” Owens explained.

That moment of clarity was pivotal to Larry’s success at Sunnybrook, but it didn’t come easily. Before he was ready to work hard and make changes in his life, he decided to leave the program and try making it on his own.

“Larry thought he was ready [to leave] and he got out there… then learned it wasn’t for him yet so he asked if he could come back,” recalled Amber Bennett, former Resident Development Coordinator.

When he returned to Sunnybrook, he completed his GED and continued to work hard, saving money, and preparing for his future. Although he had aged out of the foster care system, he was still eligible to receive services as a Sunnybrook alum.

“If I didn’t have Sunnybrook in my life I would not be as independent as I am now, I would still be at square one. I wouldn’t have the two cars that I bought with cash or the wonderful girlfriend I have now. And I wouldn’t have the knowledge that I have at this moment,” Owens said.

Best Practices to Break the Cycle of Dependency

The Transition to Independence Process (TIP) model encompasses a comprehensive evidence-based approach to systematically engage with foster youth exiting the foster care system. TIP services utilize a combination of case management, skills training, and relational support to achieve positive outcomes.

The effectiveness of TIP programs is dependent on location, available resources, and specific needs of the youth involved. A tailored, holistic approach is often the most effective way to support youth aging out of foster care.

Prior to finding a home at Sunnybrook, many residents are in state custody, were previously adopted, or come from disadvantaged backgrounds that easily crossover into federal and state systems.

Work-life interventions focus on core skills and essentials such as housing, educational support, financial guidance, trauma-informed counseling, and mentoring opportunities within a TIP framework.

Initiating and Strengthening Personal Development

Sunnybrook serves foster youth between the ages of 16 and 20. Because the needs of residents vary drastically depending on their background, abilities, and personal goals Sunnybrook uses a two-tier program model.

Tier 1 and Tier II programs at Sunnybrook seek to initiate and strengthen the overall personal development of residents while they are on campus and support them as they create and execute a personal plan toward their next step of independence.

Tier I residents are typically 16–18-year-olds who are in high school or working on a high school equivalency. They live with Houseparents who serve as their primary caregivers at Sunnybrook. Tier I’s focus is on the personal and educational development of residents and preparing them for successful transition into Tier II. 

Tier II residents are typically 18-20 years-old and have completed high school or high school equivalent. Managing their personal affairs, purchasing a car, and saving money for long-term goals are markers of a Tier II resident’s success as they approach transitioning away from Sunnybrook.

Young adults at Sunnybrook live on campus with a houseparent and oftentimes a resident assistant for added support.

Evidence-Based Interventions Make a Difference, One Life at a Time

Providing stability improves the overall well-being of foster care youth aging out of the system. Supportive housing programs explore housing possibilities with foster youth and walk them through the leasing process. Constant follow-ups and case management help young adults find and maintain adequate housing.

Educational support programs offer college or vocational training assistance and tutoring to increase academic motivation and improve performance. These programs also provide financial assistance to high school graduates interested in pursuing job specific training or higher education.

Financial literacy and money management programs teach fiscal responsibility and monetary skills to youth starting out with few if any financial assets. Budgeting, money tracking, and credit guidance can lead to wiser money-making decisions.

The financial literacy program at Sunnybrook teaches fiscal responsibility to ensure foster youth can live independently off the money they earn from employment.

“We value greatly the curriculums work-life and faith and finance, a national curriculum that we teach for job readiness and for managing finances that they receive as a result of having a job,” Executive Director Myrle Grate said.

“It’s both workforce development and financial literacy because those go together,” Sunnybrook’s Workforce Development Trainer Levi Gil explained. “You make money at work, but if you can’t steward that well then you have a similar situation. You might have a great work ethic, but you also must be able to manage your finances.”

“It’s a pretty good class,” Owens recalled. “It taught me how to save and budget my money.  If I have a bill, I make sure I have enough to pay that bill.”

“Larry was one of the first ones to get a car here, one of the first ones to get a job off campus. He has a great work ethic,” Sunnybrook’s Counselor Kenny Spansel said.

Owens credits his financial success to the program.

“I actually bought two cars with cash from that program,” he said with a smile.

In addition to financial literacy, healthcare access programs ensure youth aging out of the foster care system receive necessary healthcare assistance, including mental health support. These programs connect youth with healthcare providers in their area and educate them on healthy lifestyle choices.

Trauma-informed care programs address childhood trauma resulting from the instability and inconsistency of foster care placement. Through trauma-informed counseling, young adults can process the pain of family loss and any anger or resentment preventing them from moving forward.

Mentoring programs offer young adults one on one support and guidance through a caring relationship with an adult mentor. The emotional support and practical advice they receive from mentors can lead to positive outcomes in various areas, including education, employment, and personal development.

From his first day at Sunnybrook, Larry connected with Maintenance Director Mo Ghaffarian.

“He was a mentor to me because of the things he has done and where he has been. As far as his ambitions and goals are concerned, I really have that same drive to do what I want to do,” Owens said.

Larry is grateful for the time he spent at Sunnybrook and the lessons he learned along the way.

“Sunnybrook is a place for someone who wants to better themselves. If you don’t have the ambition to complete your goals this is not the place for you. Everybody that I have met at Sunnybrook has taught me something. Even if it’s something little it’s something I can look forward to using in the future.”

Your Gift Today is the Gift of a Good Home  

The Sunnybrook Legacy stands firm on a reputation of over 60 years in children’s advocacy and transitional living. To secure Sunnybrook’s Legacy for future generations, we are seeking 2023 ETHO tax credit donations by the end of the year.

ETHO is a generous tax credit designed to invest in the future of Mississippi by giving back, dollar-for-dollar, to individual and business taxpayers. All cash contributions are voluntary and support the proven efforts of Sunnybrook’s powerful ministry.

Learn how you can double your impact and double your tax return by emailing Ron Veazey, Director of Advancement, at or by visiting to claim your 2023 tax credit contribution today!  


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