SIOUX FALLS | A South Dakota wind power entrepreneur has transformed a resort for business retreats into a training academy for former foster children.
Joe Kolbach had originally turned the former South Dakota School for the Blind campus in Gary into the Buffalo Ridge Resort and Business Center. Now, it's home to former foster children ages 18 to 24 and military veterans ages 20 to 25.
"We think it'll change the world someday, but it may take 20 years," Kolbach said. The academy opened July 18 with five students.
All students will spend their six-month program living in a dorm on the Buffalo Ridge campus and receiving on-the-job training, The Sioux Falls Argus Leader reported (http://argusne.ws/13bQQVN ). They'll also be taught how to balance a checkbook and work with local governments.
Statistics from the Foster Care Alumni of America show that as many as 51 percent of foster children are unemployed up to four years after leaving their foster home, and as many as 25 percent reported having been homeless.
"Our goal is not to let them fail. They've been kicked to the curb so many times already," Kolbach said.
The South Dakota Department of Social Services listed 707 children in the foster care system during the 2013 fiscal year. Of that number, 59 aged out of the system. The Division of Child Protective Services is required by law to provide foster youth with transition assistance starting at age 16 and continuing until 21.
Some of those children continue to struggle as they transition into adult life. Kolbach said many of them wind up on the wrong side in legal trouble, and his hope is to provide students at the training academy with more than a set of job skills.
"The idea is to catch the young kids before they're able to go out and commit crimes," Kolbach said.