Program supporting at-risk youths to go statewide

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - An innovative program for at-risk youths has won a grant that will allow it expand across Nebraska and serve a larger variety of struggling kids.

The program, Project Everlast, was launched in 2008 by Nebraska Children and Families Foundation and focused primarily on children in foster care living in Omaha and Lincoln, the Omaha World-Herald (http://bit.ly/1JnLNkH ) reported.

Azar Webb III, who as a teenager lived in eight foster homes in four years, said he’s thankful for the support he received from Project Everlast. The 20-year-old is now preparing for classes at Metropolitan Community College.

“It’s amazing - people and positive energy, good role models, leadership - everything you’d ever want to be around to grow and to be yourself at the end of the day,” Webb said.

The statewide expansion, called the Connected Youth Initiative, will include children in the juvenile justice system and those who are homeless or are on the verge of being homeless. Jennifer Skala, vice president of community impact for Nebraska Children, said the new effort puts kids in the driver’s seats of their own lives while providing intensely committed adults as guides.

Some of Nebraska’s leading philanthropies stepped in to provide matching grants to support the expansion.

Contingent on congressional appropriations, the expansion will be funded for five years by $1 million in annual grants from the federal Corporation for National and Community Service and $5 million in total from the Sherwood Foundation, an initiative of Omahan Susie Buffett, and the William and Ruth Scott Family Foundation.

Another $5 million would be provided in matching dollars from local communities.

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