OLATHE, Kan. — Those who have eaten at Strip's Chicken, likely have been asked to round up spare change for a good cause.
Owner Todd Johnson said about half of his customers say, "Yes." Their generosity helps youths who are about to age out of the foster care system buy a car.
"Some of them are crying, they're all really excited, you know, I remember when I got my first car, it's super exciting," Johnson said.
Johnson always wanted a way to give back to the community after opening his business. His inspiration to help those in foster care came from helping those experiencing from homelessness.
"I realized that the homeless population is made up of about 50% of foster kids, and about half of foster kids will become homeless if they age out of the system within the first five years or so," Johnson said.
He had started asking his customers to round up their change to the next dollar, and realized transportation was a much needed resource for those aging out of foster care.
In Kansas, the Kansas Foster Child Educational Assistance Act waives college tuition for former foster care youth.
"Only about 3% of foster kids end up going to college," Johnson said.
Johnson made it his mission to raise money to buy cars for youths aging out of the system. After raising enough money to buy several cars, Johnson realized the process would come with some challenges.
He happened across YouThrive, a local nonprofit that works to empower youth transitioning out of the foster care system into adulthood. The organization runs a program that allows youths to save half the cost of a car while the other comes from donations.
"We were able to step in and take over the funding for that matching, and it made my job a lot easier," Johnson said. "It's a great program. we've done around 18 cars in the last five years."
YouThrive Transition Advocate Jordan Lewis said the adjustment from the foster care system to adulthood can be jarring for youths.
"They're going from the system, which is a lot of services, a lot of people in place to ensure that they don't really struggle as much and when they turn 18 or graduate from high school, it's like, 'Alright, you're on your own,'" Lewis said.
Along with saving for half the cost of a car, youths in the program must also learn about handling finances.
Lewis said having a car is essential for youths to get to work, make money and, ultimately, be successful. Otherwise, they might fall into a vicious cycle of poverty.
"One in four youth who age out of the foster care system are going to face homelessness before age 21," Lewis said. "One in five are going to end up in the justice system."
Foster care is a community issue, according to Lewis, and needs a communitywide response. He said there is always a need for loving, devoted foster parents.
Absent that, community support from places like Strip's Chicken makes all the difference.
"It definitely makes me feel really good about these opportunities this opens up for the kids when they are able to get a vehicle and have some freedoms they haven't had before," Johnson said.