A country music star and Memphis Representative are teaming up in Nashville to help continue a Tennessee program that has helped many foster children transition into adulthood.
Governor Bill Haslam recently unveiled his legislative package on Tennessee’s Capitol Hill. While a number of items deal with economic development and reforming government operations, one bill was specially selected for Representative Mark White (R—Memphis) to guide through the Legislature. The bill will eliminate the sunset for the Transitioning Youth Act—a program that provides assistance to foster children between the ages of 18-21 once they age out of the foster care system. It has been cited as a critical initiative that helps individuals bridge the gap from their teenage years to adulthood, in both educational and professional terms.
The program, and this legislation, has long been a priority of country star Jimmy Wayne, who was a foster child and found himself homeless at the age of 16. To raise awareness about teenage foster children, Wayne founded Project Meet Me Halfway and walked from Nashville to Phoenix in 2010. Mr. Wayne has consistently worked with State legislators and members of Tennessee State government to advocate on behalf of foster youth.
Rep. White was approached by State Treasurer David H. Lillard, Jr. House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick (R—Chattanooga), and the Haslam Administration to file House Bill 2337. In order to garner support for the bill, White last week brought together Jimmy Wayne, representatives from the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services, and Speaker of the House Beth Harwell (R—Nashville), a longtime advocate of children’s issues in Tennessee.
“When I was a 16 year old homeless kid, Bea and Russell Costner, who were in their mid 70s, gave me a home,” said Wayne, recalling his own experience. “That kind of support and stability allowed me to go back to high school, on to college and also the chance to pursue my dream to be in music. Every child deserves the kind of support that Bea and Russell gave to me. I’m hopeful the great State of Tennessee will continue to provide its foster kids with that support.”
Rep. White added, “I have studied this issue over the past few weeks and feel very strongly about making sure this program continues for teenage foster children. Jimmy Wayne is a great example of what happens when young adults are provided a helping hand. Far too often, they are forgotten and left behind. We can do better than that in Tennessee and it’s an honor to be carrying such important legislation.”
“We need to continue the good work of this program and ensure we are giving the opportunity of hope for foster youth,” said Speaker Harwell. “Jimmy Wayne is a great leader and gifted spokesman for this issue because he knows the difference it can make. As lawmakers, we are here to change lives in a positive way. This is a chance for us to do what is right.”
Mr. Wayne uses projectmmh.org as an online resource to distribute information about Project Meet Me Halfway. The site allows viewers to study the issue of foster youth who “age out” of the foster care system and face serious life problems such as homelessness and poverty.
On February 8, 2012 at 2pm, Jimmy Wayne will testify in front of the Committee on Children and Family Affairs about HB 2337 at the State Capitol.