MainStreet is on a mission to find the charitable organizations most worthy of your donations. We focus on their effectiveness and the amount of money they budget for actual good deeds, as opposed to that which goes to overhead.
This week we're looking at the Orphan Foundation of America.
The late teen years can be tough enough under normal circumstances, but for young people who are without parents or a family support system, this period can be extremely difficult. That’s where the Orphan Foundation of America comes in. This group relies on legions of dedicated volunteers to provide important services (as well as moral support and a sympathetic ear) to youths in need, while at the same time keeping their administrative costs extremely low.
Who they are and what they do: Founded in 1981, the Orphan Foundation of America, or OFA, based in Sterling, Va., supports the thousands of young people who age out of the U.S. foster care system (often when they turn 18) each year. The OFA awards scholarships to help these young adults attend college or a trade school.
Cutting a scholarship check is a nice start, OFA reps say, but it’s only the first step. The kids served by OFA would have a tough time surviving the high school and college years without a support system, which is where the second part of OFA’s mission comes into play. The organization also provides mentoring, academic coaching, internships and even care packages to help these youths’ chances of graduating and successful entering into the workforce.
OFA is the only national organization solely focused on helping this specific population of older foster youth make a successful transition into adulthood. That’s an important task because these kids have the odds stacked against them. According to stats cited by the OFA, foster care youth are much less likely to enroll in college prep programs, even when they have test scores and grades similar to those of their non-foster care peers. Foster care kids are also more than twice as likely to drop out of high school.
Doug Sprei, OFA marketing and communications director, says 500,000 young people are in foster care at any given time, with more than 25,000 teens aging out of the system each year. “Without education and support, many of these youths will fall through the cracks, ending up homeless, jobless, incarcerated or facing many difficulties,” Sprei says.
OFA also serves as an advocate and spokesperson for foster care youth, by testifying before Congress or otherwise speaking out publicly about the challenges these kids face, the bureaucratic maze often involved in the foster care system and the stigma that often plagues kids who have been in foster care.
“One aspect of our mission is the effort to elevate public visibility of not only the plight of America’s foster youth, but their great potential to become assets to society,” Sprei says.
How they spend your money: OFA awards nearly $14 million annually in funding to thousands of foster care youths nationwide. Charity Navigator awards OFA its highest rating of four stars for financial efficiency, a record the organization has maintained for several years. More than 91 cents of every dollar contributed to OFA goes directly toward youth the organization serves.
“OFA maintains a small expert staff augmented by a wide and enthusiastic base of volunteers, who do everything from student coaching and mentoring to care packages assembly,” Sprei says. “OFA also uses highly efficient online means for its internal administration as well as external publicity; avoids expenditures on advertising and promotions and focuses maximum budgetary dollars on core programs and direct support for students.”
How to donate: If you’d like to make a donation or volunteer, visit the Orphan Foundation of America online.