NORMAN, OK -- A good parent will teach their teenager how to become a self-sufficient adult; how to buy a car, rent an apartment, etc… But imagine being a teen without parents or a family and having to grow up in the foster care system.
There is a state program that is helping those kids make the transition to adulthood; in ways that might surprise you.
It's so good to see Lou Moore, Kyle Turner, and Ashley Mellor laughing together because their childhoods were not the best. They had no guarantees, no sense of belonging, and no traditional home.
Ashley Mellor recalls, "I didn't know if I was ever going to see my family again."
"He's the weird one. No one wants to be around that," Kyle Turner says.
Lou Moore recalls, "It was a little awkward at first, as you can imagine moving into a new house with new people that you don't know."
They all became Oklahoma "foster kids;" forced into the system because of a broken home.
Would you ever imagine "the system" to be like this? There is an annual teen conference in Norman for those who are in the Department of Human Services' "Independent Living Program."
It teaches foster youth life skills to become self-sufficient and successful adults. It’s not what Lou Moore had expected.
Moore says, “I don't know if I want to go to it. I got better things I can go do. Stuff like that. After the third day, you just want to come back and hang out with everyone, still. It’s a blast."
Ashley and Kyle have already been through the Independent Living Program and they are now mentoring teens like Moore.
Kyle Turner says, "I graduated college just this year."
"If you're going to get paid to go to school, why not?" Ashley Mellor says.
Turner says, "Someone that they can look up to, because I know what they've been through and I like to help out with that."
"I still, even though I’m like 20-years-old, I still call them for help. It’s very helpful," Ashley Mellor says.
Lou Moore says, "It's always nice to have someone that's already passed through the system to ask questions to or get advice on things, you know."
The teens learn about health, housing, employment; all of which gives them hope.
"[I’m] Just ready to get out on my own. I've been preparing for it for the past two years, and it’s here,” Moore explains.
The help Lou Moore received from the Independent Living Program guided him here, to Redlands Community College in El Reno. Here is his response when NewsChannel 4 asked him where he would be without this program.
"Definitely nowhere where I am now; I probably wouldn't be going to college; I wouldn't see a future in myself," Lou Moore explains.
It’s a future that is now strong.
Holding down a steady job in Minco, Oklahoma is only part of what impresses his foster mom, Donna McMahon.
"He has gained independence. Lou knows what he can be," Donna McMahon says. "Without the Independent Living Program and without loving parents, he would be out on the street or in an apartment on his own."
Instead, he spent time at the state capitol as a page. It’s another experience to develop unlimited potential. It’s independence without learning the ropes alone.
"I've had people help me so it's time for me to help them," Lou Moore says.
With a college degree, Moore says he wants to be a wildlife biologist and eventually own a game ranch.