What would life be like if you didn’t know how to cook for yourself? What if no one explained calories, or the benefit of exercise? Each year in Texas, more than 1,000 teenagers age out of the foster care system. Who is going to guide them towards being successful adults?

I recently saw a photo of Sonja Baumgarten teaching former foster kids in Plano how to cook. What a great idea! I wanted to learn more, so Sonja invited me to attend a committee meeting and talk to all the volunteers in this unique program.

Located in Plano, City House serves homeless kids from babies to age 21. They are the only emergency shelter in Collin County that is just for children, not families. In 2015 they sheltered over 170 clients and managed nearly 2,000 crisis calls and walk-ins at their youth resource center. They work through three primary programs:

  1. Emergency Shelter (including outpatient Counseling Services)
  2. TLP: Transitional Living Program (three homes for 18-21 yr olds)
  3. a Resource Center

In conjunction with the Junior League of Collin County, the CITY House Life Skills Project works to provide life skills education to the 18-22 year olds in their Transitional Living Program. These at-risk young adults have been involved in the foster care system, but have aged out, so it’s vital that they learn certain skills so they can become productive members of society and build a fulfilling life for themselves. The program is voluntary, with a thorough application process along with specific program conditions: attend school and/or work, and abide by strict rules (i.e. no overnight guests, no drugs or alcohol, certain chores, etc.). Residents can stay up to 18 months and are required to attend the life skills classes.

“The kids ask us follow-up questions. You can see the progress.” – Tierany, R.I.S.E. volunteer

This is the first year of the R.I.S.E. program (Reaching Independence and Success with Education), so Sonja and her committee assisted City House in creating the curriculum. Each week a couple of committee members teach a hands-on lesson to around 14 students. Here are some of the topics they’ve covered:

  • First aid kit contents
  • The difference between allergies and a cold
  • At-home and free exercise options including free trails, fitness apps and info on burning calories
  • Stress-relief tips
  • Nutrition: reading labels, five-ingredient recipes and Eat This Not That lessons (a favorite of the clients)
  • Field trips to an auto mechanic where they learned basic car maintenance and an apartment complex where they learned about leases

They also hold Career Panels, where invited guests (based on interests of clients) discuss their careers. The City House staff social worker also works weekly with each client to set goals and guide them to available resources, including education.

“There are so many temptations. If they don’t have confidence in themselves they won’t make good decisions. We try to make them want to reach goals.” – Linda, R.I.S.E. volunteer

My dad never learned how to cook as a kid, but that was a long time ago and he got married right out of college. Imagine if packaged and prepared foods were your only option for meals at home. Imagine if you had never learned to measure, or chop, or learn that the serving size is one of the most important parts of a nutritional label.

Prior to the Junior League’s involvement, these young adults were getting lessons from a variety of local groups, now they see the same people consistently, and they like it.

“Someone showing up consistently is huge.” – Amy, R.I.S.E. volunteer


If you or someone you know is homeless this online Homeless Shelter Directory is a great resource.

Does your company have a job opening for a young adult working hard to make a change in his/her life? Please contact City House at 972-424-4626. Learn about volunteer opportunities and donation needs here.

If you want to learn more about joining the Junior League of Collin County go here.