Move-in Day Mafia helps former foster kids get settled into college

Moving into a college dorm is one of the most exciting moments for incoming freshmen at any university, but not everyone has the family support to help in that process. That's where the Move-in Day Mafia steps in. The nonprofit is dedicated to helping teenagers who have aged out of the foster care system get settled into their dorm rooms.

"They think we’re too good to be true, and they typically don’t believe us till they see us on move-in day," explained TeeJ Mercer, the founder of Move-in Day Mafia.

The reveal of the finished dorm room often brings students to tears. It isn't just a dorm room for scholars of Move-in Day Mafia. It might be the first room they've ever had of their own.

"Move-in Day Mafia started in 2020 when I met a young college grad from an HBCU that had aged out of foster care," explained Mercer, "Her social worker drove her to campus, pulled up to the curb, let her unload what little she had and then bounced basically."

Mercer is a Howard University alumni. She told FOX 5 it was at that moment that she became aware of a silent issue on college campuses. Young adults who arrive empty-handed are often dropped off by a social worker, and are now too old to qualify for the only support they've ever known.

"I just couldn’t imagine someone who's 18 going through that transition alone. So, I resolved that I was going to do something about it," said Mercer.

That's how Move-in Day Mafia was born. The nonprofit supports incoming HBCU students who have aged out of the foster care system. Move-in Day Mafia and its mob of volunteers descend on college campuses and surprise students with personalized dorm rooms to kick off their college journey.

"We have a lot of students tell us that they’ve never even had their own room before. So, it’s really important that all the way down to the wallpapers, the headboards, their favorite colors, their inspirational quotes that they may like," explained Mina Starks, who helps with design for Move-in Day Mafia, "Those are just like the little bitty details we try to make sure that we execute in the rooms."

The help goes beyond the move-in day. The mob supports the students until they graduate with monthly care packages containing food and school supplies. This year, Move-in Day Mafia is expanding to HBCU campuses across the country. The goal requires more funding and volunteers.

"We have other volunteers that come in that you know make the beds or put up the wallpaper. You know, there’s a lot of different moving parts to it, and it can become a very long day,"
said Starks.

Last spring, Move-in Day Mafia celebrated its first-ever graduate. This summer the nonprofit hopes to move in 44 more young scholars.

"We’ve seen that these kids thrive when they’re not under the stress of buying deodorant, buying toothpaste, and buying detergent," said Mercer.

If you're interested in supporting Move-in Day Mafia – click here for how you can donate or volunteer.