Unlike many 17-year-olds, Godwin Kasongoma, a Columbia Heights High School senior, isn't working the drive-through window or in customer service this summer. Instead, she works for the Hennepin County Transition Age Team.
The Transition Age Team is one of the many initiatives by Hennepin County that aims to improve the well-being of youth transitioning into adulthood. The team strategizes solutions to help youth ages 14 to 26 navigate homelessness, the foster care system, juvenile justice, parenthood and personal life.
Godwin is one of eight youth interns and volunteers on the team. Step Up, a career resource program, connected Godwin to Hennepin County. As an intern, she gets to pay it forward. Godwin writes e-mail blasts, which include resources and job openings, that reach young people through youth action boards. She wants to give other youth the same connection to new jobs.
"It's important because there's many opportunities out there," Godwin said about providing job resources to other teens. "It can excel you or be an ascending ladder to you."
"I'm very passionate about helping youth," Godwin said. She wants to study immigration law. She values the writing experience she's gained and the mentors she met during her internship.
Jobs are only one milestone of the journey to adulthood. The Transition Age Team also worked to extend opportunities for foster youth during the COVID-19 pandemic and give them cash stipends for immediate needs, as well as help get them vaccinated.
"It's about first chances and second chances," said Lexi Prahl Martin, coordinator for the Transition Age Team. "How can we make sure that when you get into that first house and first apartment that you never have to experience an eviction?"
The county also partners with mental health programs, such as Change to Chill, to get resources into more schools. Change to Chill, created by Allina Health, gives high school students strategies on improving their well-being. Students learn to identify stressors and find ways to cope. Prahl Martin finds the work necessary because she thinks mental health plays a role in every life choice.
This summer, Godwin became a high school ambassador for Change to Chill. She wants to create help within her school and reduce the stigma around mental health issues.
From Godwin's experience, high school students struggle with their GPA, expectations for their future, developing into adulthood and managing family. She noticed that students disregard mental health as an issue in these struggles.
"For example, say they were failing their classes. They won't directly connect it with mental health. They'll think, 'Oh, maybe I'm pretty dumb.' " As she creates pathways through Change to Chill, Godwin hopes the well-being of high schoolers can improve.
Prahl Martin works to ensure that all teens have access to resources for any struggle they might face during their transition to adulthood. The resources are compiled on hennepin.us/youth, covering topics such as sexual health, emergency housing and scheduling a driver's license exam.
Prahl Martin emphasized that these programs rely on young people in the community to make decisions.
"Honestly, most of the time, I just need to stop talking and listen," she said, "because usually they have the best insights."