Fostering Community with Emmie Brunelle

This Holiday season, students are getting into the spirit of giving and chipping in around the Portland State community and beyond.

Emmie Brunelle is a living example of a student who gives back to a community, both through action and education. Originally from Wyoming, Brunelle transferred to PSU last year with 5 years of experience working in foster care on a national level, with projects like National Youth in Transition Database and organizations like the National Resource for Youth Development, among others.

Brunelle was also in the foster care system at age 15, so she knows on a personal level what the system and experience is like.

During Brunelle’s third day on PSU’s campus last September, she found herself at the Regional Research Institute, which is the research aspect of the Graduate School of Social Work on PSU’s campus – she knew participating in something on campus related to foster care was important to her. Brunelle’s first position was through My Life, a research project which involved assessing youth in the foster care system, and interviewing them through surveys, etc.

My Life split into two groups, one cohort were youth who received standard services through the state, and the other cohort were youth placed in intervention groups to access coaching and mentoring activities for a school year, along with standard state care.

After a few months of administrating assessments and interviews, Brunelle became more interested in mentoring youth and wanted to help them work toward their life goals, so she became a coach.

“I meet with five different youth every other week. They are all high school seniors or General Education Students in the EXITO Better Future Programs,” Brunelle said. All of the youth are found through the Department of Human Services and are all in foster care. Some have hopes to go to college after graduating high school, while others may start working.

The youth in the Better Future Programs are matched up with a coach that they have for the school year. They can leave the program at any time, and are not forced to participate in it.

“The motto,” says Brunelle, is “nothing about them without them.” “The system (foster care) is usually people making decisions for the youth without talking to them, so the beauty of the program is us being in a position where we can focus on what they want” says Brunelle.

Brunelle meets with the youth in multiple places. She said her office is coffee shops, libraries, her car; she meets the youth where they are.

“In the beginning we focus on building relationships, because generally people are going to do better when they want to be around someone,” Brunelle said. After a foundation of a relationship has been laid out Brunelle assists the youth in something called a narrow down, a chart that is filled out with different goals, along with different steps that need to be made to reach that goal.

For example, if a youth wants to get their drivers license, Brunelle will assist them with figuring out who they need to talk to, what papers they need to bring to the DMV, what days they can take the test, and how they’ll pay for the test. She’ll also take the youth to the DMV.

“It’s helping them, like an assistant, walking with them, not me doing it for them, but them leading me to whatever their goals are” says Brunelle.

One goal is for the youth to do skills like narrow-downs on their own by the end of the school year, and that throughout the year they gain connections with people in their communities, with the hope that a support system can be formed.