Thirteen undergraduate students from UTSA’s College of Architecture and Planning collaborated with the nonprofit Youth Transitioning Into Adulthood (YTIA) to help make the shift from foster care to adulthood a little smoother.

YTIA’s principal founders and child welfare attorneys, Brenda Knowles and Mary Fuentes Valdez, observed that youths who “aged out” of the foster care system after their eighteenth birthdays often find themselves at a loss for what to do next.

“Interestingly, when most of us venture out on our own, we do so knowing that we have family to whom we can return for support, advice and sometimes money. Unfortunately, that is not the case for youths leaving foster care. They do not have the ‘safety net’ that we had,” said Knowles.

With the experiences of the youth unsure of what to do in mind, the two women conceptualized “The Dorm,” a complex for 18-21 year old former foster youth to gain independence while learning practical skills, such as basic housekeeping, financial responsibility and working on interpersonal skills.

It took years of prayer for Knowles and Valdez to ask if UTSA would provide the preliminary designs for “The Dorm” and make their vision a reality. The founders approached Sue Ann Pemberton, lecturer of historic preservation and architecture, president of the San Antonio Conservation Society, director of the UTSA Center for Architectural and Engagement and Fellow of the American Institute of Architect.

Pemberton presented the idea to the students in her architecture class who then made it their capstone semester project. The 13 students involved with “The Dorm” split into four teams determined by their skill sets to produce four different designs for the teens to choose from.

The prospect of having real clients who provide feedback excited the architecture students.

“When we met them, they had their own ideas and were really excited about it,” said senior architecture major Eric Ourston.

They’re very clear about wanting separate laundry rooms for the boys and girls. They also want it to be a homey atmosphere, where they can have dinners together and build relationships,” said Megan Goldstein, junior architecture major.

Goldstein and Ourston worked on designing “The Dorm” all semester and appreciate the fact that their talents are being used for a good cause.

“It feels more real; there’s actually people who can benefit from this project, and that gets me more motivated to put out good work,” said Goldstein.

Ourston expanded: “A lot of these kids have been bouncing around and this will be their first real home. It’s cool to be designing something that will make someone’s life a little better or easier.”

Commenting on criteria for the teens to live in “The Dorm,” Fuentes and Valdez said, “At this time, we are focusing on youths currently leaving foster care; however, any former foster youth who applies would be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.”

“We know that not all youths will embrace our concept of life after foster care, but for those who do want to consider it, we will be looking for youths who are motivated to either work or attend school, and who are willing to live communally,” Fuentes and Valdez said.

The architecture students will present the final designs to YTIA in May who will be free to utilize them how they see fit to obtain funding for the complex.

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