Unlike many 17-year-olds, Godwin Kasongoma, a senior at Columbia Heights High School, is not working the drive-thru window or in customer service this summer. Instead, Godwin 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 wellbeing of youth transitioning into adulthood. The team strategizes solutions to help youth aged 14 to 26 navigate homelessness, the foster care system, juvenile justice, parenthood and personal life.
Godwin is one of the 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 informative email blasts, which include resources and job openings, that reach youth 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 go to law school for 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. Through Hennepin County, 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. The team also initiated outreach to young people to get them COVID-19 vaccines.
“It’s about first chances and second chances,” said Lexi Prahl Martin, coordinator for the Transition Age Team about the team’s goal. “How can we make sure that when you get into that first house and first apartment that you never have to experience an eviction?”
Another initiative at Hennepin County is to partner 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. Through the program’s resources, 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 building and reduce the stigma around mental health.
From Godwin’s experience, high schooler students struggle with their GPA, expectations for their future, developing into adulthood and family. She noticed that students disregard mental health as an issue with 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 that the well-being of high schoolers can improve.
Prahl Martin works to ensure that regardless of their high school, all teens have access to resources for their well-being and overall 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 test.
The work of these programs wouldn’t be complete without the work of youth. Prahl Martin emphasized that they rely on young people in the community to make decision.
“Honestly, most of the time, I just need to stop talking and listen,” said Prahl Martin, about working alongside young people. “Listen, and respond and act — because usually they have the best insights on how to change and evolve things.”