CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. -- A young singer in Chesterfield County is finding his rhythm in life after spending his teenage years in Virginia's foster care system. Mark Kinnard, 20, is one of hundreds of kids each year who age out of the system before a family adopts them.
Many young people who find themselves in this situation are on their own and have to fend for themselves without a stable support system to fall back on.
CBS 6 first met Kinnard three years ago, a few months before he turned 18-years old and "aged out." The years that followed have seen peaks and valleys. Kinnard said at one point, he spent several months living on the street; he would sleep on the benches at the Greyhound bus station in Richmond.
"You lie down for a minute, and you're getting right back up because it's so uncomfortable, uh it's just so, it's just not comfortable," said Kinnard.
Estimates show that more than 500 kids age out of foster care in Virginia every year. For several years now, Virginia has had the highest percentage in the country of kids who age out of the system, according to state rankings.
Studies have found that within two years of aging out, one in five foster kids experience homelessness, and one in four end up in jail.
"Being the worst at our response to these vulnerable children is simple not acceptable," said Nadine Marsh-Carter, President and CEO of the Children's Home Society of Virginia. "They are not criminals, they are not juvenile delinquents, they are not bad kids. They've just had disadvantages, and with the right support, they can become a thriving productive member of our community."
Kinnard has become just that with the help of a new pilot program sponsored by Children's Home Society and the Better Housing Coalition called "The Possibilities Project." Kinnard is one of 10 former Virginia foster kids taking part in the program.
"The Possibilities Project provides these young people with critical supports and housing, and assists them as they develop into independent and engaged community members," the CHSV's website reads. "In addition to safe, stable housing, we provide case management, trauma-informed counseling and mentoring, and networks to build supportive, permanent connections with adults. Each will also have access to important basic needs like transportation, internet, a living expense stipend, and life skills training."
The program is funded through grants and donations.
Marsh-Carter called the program a "holistic approach" to helping kids who age out of the system. Possibilities Project helped Kinnard with a permanent place to live, a town home in Chesterfield that he shares with a roommate, a friend he met while they were both in foster care. Since entering the program, Kinnard has found a steady customer service job.
"The good book says if you lose everything, when you get everything back, you get that and some, and that's what happened. I'm more comfortable in my life; I'm stable," Kinnard said.
Thankful for the help he has received and the hard work he has put in, Kinnard is also focused on his first love: music. Kinnard is an R&B singer, recording original tracks and performing at local joints around Richmond.
He credits music with helping him get through some tough times. With new found stability and his past as a guide, Kinnard is looking forward to what the future holds.
"It doesn't matter where you came from; it's what you end up being," he said.
For more information on The Possibilities Project, visit the Children's Home Society of Virginia's website. Marsh-Carter said they hope what they learn during the pilot program can be implemented statewide and nationally to help foster kids who age out of the system. Donations and volunteers to help mentor young people are a huge help, she said.