Guided youth

Dacember and Skyler visit the Youth Services for Oklahoma County pantry.
Shannon Cornman

After leaving home, the only place she could find to stay was with six other people in a three-bedroom apartment where neither school nor food was a priority.

“My room was the living room.

The party room was the living room,” she said.

Skyler, now 18, often didn’t sleep before heading to school or walking to work. After struggling for a year, a counselor referred her to Youth Services for Oklahoma County, where the Supporting Kids in Independent Living, or SKIL, program helped her learn to take care of herself while maintaining a focus on education.

“I would have been done with high school. I wouldn’t have been able to find a home,” she said.

The SKIL program is one of several supported by Youth Services for Oklahoma County, which is hosting its 10th annual Reach for the Stars! fundraiser on Saturday.

With former NBA player Desmond Mason and his wife Andrea serving as honorary co-chairs, the gala includes dinner and silent and live auctions. Tickets are $150. For information, contact Youth Services at 235-7537.

The SKIL program focuses on students living on their own, due to parental drug or alcohol abuse, incarceration, abandonment, abuse or death. Students often avoid referral to the Department of Human Services because they don’t want to be moved or they are nearly 18. Often the SKIL participants are valedictorians, on student council and active in their schools, Forshee said.

“They’re working doubly hard compared to others around them,” said Debra Forshee, YSOC president and CEO. “They just have this gut-level desire to make it.”

SKIL serves up to 50 clients.

Students must attend school, work part-time or be heavily involved in school activities and academics. In addition, students must maintain a C average.

A life skills boot camp helps students learn financial and other skills needed to live away from parents. The organization also has a pantry to provide food, hygiene items and clothing, and sometimes helps with rent, gasoline or utilities, Forshee said.

Dacember, who has been on her own since the beginning of the year, credited the SKIL program with helping her learn to balance the chores of being an adult with the demands of being a student, president of her class, a cheerleader and an athlete.

“It’s really hard to concentrate on school and work and then worry about bills,” said the 18-year-old. “Being in school, you can’t have a full-time job, but you need full-time money.”

Forshee said program officials want to help students graduate from high school, but counselors also want to help students find their next step, whether that be college, career technology, employment or the military.

“We basically parent over 50 kids who are unaccompanied,” Forshee said. “We grow taxpaying citizens. We grow adults.”