By Rachel Wulff

Yolo County (CBS13) – A program designed to improve the lives of foster kids is now teaming up with Americorps to engage youth and expand opportunities for them as they enter the workforce.

Nineteen-year-old Amal El-Mansoumi is stuffing stockings for foster youth in Yolo County. She entered foster care a couple of years ago, joining the program’s independent living skills program which operates out of Woodland Community College — and has done so since 1985.

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“I was a little bit nervous at first. I was a little bit hesitant, because I really don’t like asking for help, but I went in straight off the bat and it was like family,” she said.

Amal moved here to be with her sister who was attending UC Davis. They grew up in a rural area near Santa Cruz with no hot water, walking miles to school each day.

“I was kinda rebellious back then, but I see myself now and I’m on a whole different person,” she said.

Amal took advantage of a new partnership with Americorps called the ‘California Foster Youth Initiative Americorps.’   Cherie Shroeder, Director of Foster and Kinship Care Education, says the agencies complement one another.

“They literally come and engage the young people outside that classroom door. They do direct one on one and because they’re doing that, they can expand our program,” she said.

“We do an Ansell-Casey life assessment which really reaches the kids in every part of their life…like can you do laundry? Do you have a bank account? Can you cook for yourself?” said Stephanie Pike, an Americorps member.

Pike says they meet teens where they’re at. She knows how important that is because she a caregiver to two foster teens herself.

“I think coming at the youth from every angle is really important. Our teens move a lot and I think as a parent of teens I want to be able to work with other caregivers to build retentions in homes so they don’t have to move a lot,” said Pike.

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The new partnership is in 12 counties already with 17 programs statewide and they want to expand.

“I think we’ve really given our young people the opportunity to have an enlightened adulthood. They can go out and be more than they ever thought they will be,” said Shroeder.

“It shaped me into somebody else,” said Amal.

Amal is about to get her two-year degree and head to either Sac State or Chico State for a degree in nursing.

“I think it’s little things like this that makes them feel important,” said Schroeder.

It’s ironic Amal is now joyful about giving children gifts when she used to hate the holidays because there were no gifts for her.

“Just don’t give up hope,” she said with a smile.

She has these words of encouragement to other teens entering foster care.

“It’s not that big of a deal. Things will roll on. It’s speedbumps, honestly, because there’s better things ahead,” she said.

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Americorps operates out of the child abuse prevention center for the state of California. One hundred to 120 foster kids between the ages of 14-21 participate in this new program. That’s a quarter of the total foster kids in Yolo County.