Prestina Singleton, a transitional living specialist at UCAN, has a unique and deep-rooted connection to the organization. As a former UCAN youth, Prestina has firsthand knowledge of how the organization positively impacts youth who have experienced trauma. Born on the West Side of Chicago, Prestina was placed in the care of the state at age 11. This life- altering event led to isolation and trauma and eventually she was introduced to UCAN.
As a teen mom to two daughters, Prestina sought the help of UCAN to assist her with finding a stable environment to raise her children. At the same time, she began to diligently study to earn a GED to provide a better life for her young daughters. Through the Independent Living Arrangement program, she learned basic life skills that included budgeting and selecting insurance. With the help of UCAN, Prestina acquired vital information on parenting and housing that allowed her to survive and thrive in her daily life. With a desire to help others, she started her career at UCAN as an employee working in the Transitional Teen Services program.
Prestina brings her passion for education and breaking the cycles of abuse to every aspect of her job. This same desire drives her to be an advocate for all of the UCAN youth and youth families who may not have the opportunity to voice their concerns or share their stories with those in power. On May 4, Prestina and a select group of UCAN alumni and current youth-in-care visited Springfield, Illinois for a shadow day with State Representative Mary Flowers. They spoke to various legislators about the proposed budget cuts for youth-in-care between the ages of 18-21.
During the shadow day, Illinois legislators walked the UCAN representatives through some of their daily activities. There was also time for the UCAN alumni and youth to speak to officials about the benefits of keeping funding for youth-in-care after age 18. A meeting with Governor Bruce Rauner highlighted the trip.
“We were also able to meet with the governor and the director of DCFS. Originally we had a 20-minute meeting scheduled but it turned into an hour. He actually sat down and listened to our concerns,” stated Prestina, who is a graduate of Chicago State University. “He actually listened to our concerns and the accomplishments that agencies like UCAN have made in helping youth-in-care become better people and not the statistics that everyone assumes about our young people.”
Prestina described how the governor seemed to have a new awareness of the struggles and successes of the programming and services offered to youth- in-care. “I got from him that he just did not know. He seemed shocked and genuinely concerned,” explained Prestina.
The conversation between the UCAN representatives and the governor tackled a variety of topics including referring to youth in DCFS care as “youth-in-care” and not “wards of the state.” Additionally, they discussed employment opportunities for today’s young people. Prestina stated, “I talked to him about the state making contracts with businesses that provide employment and job training for our youth.”
The discussion also covered when youth are emancipated from the care of the state at the age of 18 and are expected to live independently as adults. She explained how difficult this transition can be and how unaware youth are of the many essential resources and skills at this time. “It’s like DCFS is saying, ‘Bye -we are not going to help you anymore.’ You don’t really know anything about a bank account or how to pay bills and you do not have the best education.”
When reflecting on the day Prestina recalled, “I think he needed to see a face and hear a story to really understand the decision he was making and the impact it was having on young people. We did not all have a family. Things are different for us than for people who were raised at home with parents.”
Although the meeting did not end with an action plan for the governor, Prestina felt that the day in Springfield was productive. In the future, representatives from UCAN will meet with the DCFS Director George Sheldon to discuss ideas for a five-year plan for youth-in-care of all ages. The goal is for young people ages 18-21 to gain employment and have companies provide job opportunities for these youth.