Working Together to Give Youth a Brighter Future

Arielle Skinner always knew she had the drive to succeed. She credits the Together We Can Foundation’s Smart Transitions Life-Work Portfolio Course with helping her achieve her goals.

Arielle Skinner
Arielle Skinner (center) poses with a copy of her book along with Paris Barrett-Lundy (left) and Tom Crockett, executive director of Together We Can Foundation.

Skinner was in foster care on and off from age four until she turned 21. While at Lake Taylor High in Norfolk, she learned about the portfolio course from a social worker.

“Being in the program helped me to believe that I could actually have a career,” said Skinner, who went on to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees and become a social worker helping children in foster care.

She also wrote a children’s book, “I Am a Sunflower, the Sunflower is Me,” to help girls like she once was — a Black girl in foster care — grow and become the best version of themselves.

The portfolio program “made me curious about my future,” said Skinner, 27, who lives in Maryland with her husband and their young son. “It allowed me to dream a little bit and get some vision for my future.”

In 2021, the Community Leadership Partners giving circle at the Hampton Roads Community Foundation awarded the Together We Can Foundation $17,500 for the portfolio program. Every year, the Partners learn about Hampton Roads issues, choose a funding focus area, invite nonprofits to apply for grants, go on site visits to see programs in action, and collectively recommend grants to fund.

Most recently, the Partners funded nonprofits that provide prevention, intervention, and/or re-engagement programs and services to help address youth “disconnection” in South Hampton Roads. Youth disconnection typically refers to youth and young adults ages 16-24 who are neither working nor in school nor in military service.

Together We Can’s mission is to improve outcomes for youth at risk of disconnection and in transition to independent adult life and the workforce in Hampton Roads and Southeastern Virginia by ensuring that they are better prepared, more connected, and have a greater sense of optimism about their future.

The nonprofit’s participants may have been in foster care, involved in the juvenile justice system, grown up in poverty, or struggled with school, Executive Director Tom Crockett said.

“We try to prevent disconnection by giving them some of the skills for growing up: planning for your future, having some sense of why you’re going to school and what you want to do after high school, and also skills for employment,” Crockett said.

The portfolio course helps young people clarify how they want to be seen by the world. They also develop practical tools for adult success, including life-work plans, professional resumes, personal presentation portfolios, and refined personal presentation skills. And, they receive a professional headshot.

Skinner said she recalled feeling proud to have her portfolio when she applied for jobs. “Employers were wowed,” she said.

Her connections to Together We Can didn’t end when she finished her portfolio.

When she needed help to buy books in college, she reached out to Crockett and received assistance through Together We Can’s Connections Fund. Graduates of the portfolio program can apply for grants for short-term aid for housing and education. When she self-published her book, the nonprofit bought copies to distribute. Earlier this year, Skinner spoke at Together We Can’s Community Awareness Breakfast.

“They remain a part of my support system even to this day,” Skinner said.

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