Each May marks the end of a school year, and for those who are seniors, it also marks graduation from high school.

For some local youth, it also signifies a major change in life as they have known. For these young students, they are not only graduating from high school, but also "aging out" of Iowa's foster care system. The State of Iowa at any given time has over 5,000 youth in the foster care system, with the ultimate goal of family reunification or adoptive placements. For some, however, through no fault of their own, remaining in foster care was the only option.

"Can you imagine graduating from high school and leaving the foster care system, embarking on the next stage of life, that of independent living, with limited resources to help?" said Kirsten Heine, Project Care coordinator.

Two years ago, Project Care was created to help alleviate some of the burden of trying to help these young people aging out of the foster care system. The Mission and Outreach Committee of First Lutheran Church in Decorah asked Lutheran Services of Iowa, who helps oversee and care for these young people in need, how the congregation could uplift these deserving young people.

"It was determined that these students truly deserved a graduation party to help celebrate their accomplishments, but also needed help in furnishing apartments and items necessary for college," said Heine.

"Project Care has been so well received by the community, I think we all can relate to being at this juncture in life. It is a wonderful opportunity to reach out, care and serve. We are so grateful for the community's embrace and effort to make this the success that it is," said First Lutheran senior Pastor Chad Huebner. The committee works to help with providing the basic essentials for independent living for each of the young people, along with some specific needs. These items include basics like bath towels, sheet sets, plates, silverware, microwaves and cooking utensils. The committee also works so that each student also receives a television and a computer for college studies.

"This year, we have seven students in our local area graduating from high school and aging out of the foster care system. That is an impressive number for our rural community. Each one of these young people needs our help", said Heine.

"We invite anyone in our community who wants to help, either by purchasing a needed item, giving a monetary donation to help purchase computers, or by helping with the graduation celebration May 30 to contact us at First Lutheran Church at 563-382-2638. This endeavor will change how you look at and care for those youth in our community in foster care, and also will fill your heart. I have never had the opportunity to be a part of a community effort like this. It is inspiring!" stated Heine.

"This Mission and Outreach Committee of First Lutheran encourages and invites participation from our community. This effort would not be possible without all of the local support, and it does indeed make a difference in the life of a young person in our community."

How to help

Tax deductible monetary donations can be sent to First Lutheran Church, c/o Project Care. Donated items can be dropped off at the church office before Friday, May 24 at 4 p.m.

The public is invited to attend the graduation ceremony, Thursday, May 30, at 4 p.m. in the lower level of the church.