Some hometown heroes move away but never really leave home.
That’s certainly true for Sacramento Kings forward Maurice “Moe” Harkless, a native of Queens, New York, who has donated thousands of dollars for young adults transitioning out of the foster care system.
His first donation of $25,000 in 2020 went to a fund organized by New Yorkers For Children and New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services created in March that year in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, called the Last Resort Emergency Response Fund.
New Yorkers For Children is a nonprofit group focused on young adults ages 18 to 26 who are exiting the foster care system, which is designed for people 17 and younger.
Without a safety net or close family to lean on financially, these young people often face hardships such as medical expenses, college tuition, laptops for school, transportation costs and everyday expenses made unaffordable due to the pandemic.
Harkless said that throughout 2020, as the pandemic unfolded, he saw inequalities and wanted to do his part to help close those gaps, particularly for young adults leaving the foster care system, whose needs are often forgotten and unmet. So he started researching organizations he could support.
“I came across the Last Resort Fund and it really hit me — one, the fund being based in New York, the city that I’m from,” he said. “And two, focusing on the youth. That’s always been a big passion of mine.”
Harkless, a nine-year veteran of the NBA, made his second donation of $25,000 this year toward the fund’s $1.5 million total coffers. So far, $500,000 in direct cash support has gone to roughly 1,000 families, older teenagers in foster care or young adults formerly in foster care. His two donations have helped at least 100 individuals and families facing housing instability, food insecurity and other financial strains made worse by the pandemic, according to New Yorkers For Children and the Administration for Children’s Services.
In a joint interview with Harkless, New Yorkers For Children Executive Director Saroya Friedman-Gonzalez said the Last Resort Fund was birthed out of the pandemic, but the organization already had efforts to support about 1,000 young adults leaving the foster care system and enrolled in college, known as the First Resort Fund.
“In 2012, we began an emergency cash grant program focused on older youth that were attending college, and the funds were used to provide educational support for crises that might have happened to a student while they were in college,” she said. “And if not for receiving these funds, they’d have to drop out. And so that is our First Resort Fund.”
The pandemic spurred the nonprofit to pivot to help young people who were not enrolled in college but still experiencing financial hardship due to Covid. That became the Last Resort Fund.
There are just over 7,000 minors currently in the city’s foster care system, according to an Administration for Children’s Services report issued last month. A 2018 report from the agency said more than half of the children in the city’s foster care system, at the time, were Black. An average of 606 young adults aged out of the city’s foster care system each year between 2018 and 2020, the agency reports.
Nationwide, there are more than 400,000 minors in the foster care system, according to the Administration for Children and Families. More than 23,000 of them age out of the system every year and 1 in 5 are Black, according to the National Foster Youth Institute, a nonprofit group committed to transforming the foster care system.
Friedman-Gonzalez said her work prioritizes supporting young adults formerly in foster care through education, professional development, peer community groups and mentorship.
The joint interview was the first time Harkless and Friedman-Gonzalez met after corresponding via email and through colleagues for the past two years.
“I just think for our young people to know that someone from Queens,” she said to Harkless during the interview, “from their neighborhood, came back and all that you’ve accomplished — you allow them to see that anything is possible and their dreams are possible with hard work. But it also reminds them that people care. There’s a community of New Yorkers out there that have their back.”
Harkless returned the gesture. “It always hits home for me because I was one of those kids who just needed an opportunity and needed a chance and needed someone to believe in him. So it really means the world to me to be able to have an impact on the city that raised me.”