Tag Archives: Pensacola

This IS Our Problem: Fixing Foster Care in America, My Part (And Yours)

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Last night it was bitterly cold. The heat in our office building hadn’t been working so the staff and I worked most of the day with our coats and hats on. We thought the conditions were impossible, brutal, unbearable. We complained to management. We complained to each other. And then, just as I was about to head home to a delicious meal with my family, my cell phone rang and I was suddenly reminded that even the worst conditions I have ever faced are the best conditions some children can imagine.

It was a social service worker, a friend of mine, calling to ask if I could wait a bit longer for a group of caseworkers to come to our facility. They had just abruptly removed 4 children from deplorable conditions. Their mother was nowhere to be found. The kids needed pretty much everything; from clothing to shoes to comfort items. Of course, I agreed to wait.

In situations like these, it’s the waiting that is sometimes the hardest part. I wonder what I’m about to see. I wonder how bad it will be. I wonder if these children will be crying. I wonder if they will be scared. I wonder if I will be able to hold it together so I don’t make them feel even worse.

I opened the door twenty minutes later to three caseworkers. One was carrying a baby. One was carrying a toddler who was not wearing any shoes or socks. The other 2 children walked in on their own; 5 and 7 years old. Immediately, the 7 year old made eye contact with me and I could see she had been crying. She looked up at me and almost began to cry again.

I knelt down and took her hand and told her my name. Then I asked hers and she whispered it softly. Then I asked her if she would like to go look at some toys. Immediately, her face changed. She smiled a bit. “Yes!”

Over the next hour and half the caseworkers and I split our time between walking the children through our toy closet, helping them choose their favorites, and attempting to find enough clothing in the right sizes to get the children prepared for their first night away from home.

Beneath her dirty clothing, the baby was covered in feces. It took two workers to clean her up. One of the men came out and sat down, head in his hands, and said “How can people do this?” For me it’s always so hard to see that type of raw, vulnerable emotion, especially from a big, strong, tough-looking guy. I didn’t know what to say to him.

When the group was ready to leave, the 7 year-old girl turned back and gave me a hug. I held her as tightly as I could. I wanted to take her home.

It was then I started to think about my own kids; 7 and 8 years old. Their biggest worry of the day was doing homework. They were waiting at home for me with their amazing, attentive, super supportive dad. They were playing games in their playroom. I didn’t feel guilty for this joyful loving home I have. But I did feel like I wanted to get back to sharing it.

So I will. I am hopeful that in the coming months my home will be reopened to accept foster children like the four amazing kids I met last night. That is the part I want to play in this solution.

But that may not be your reaction and that is totally OK! There are dozens of ways that you can also do something super amazing to ensure these beautiful, innocent children get the love and support and hope they need. Because they need all of us in on this.

To be honest, I don’t even care why you decide to help. Just do something other than read this, feel bad and go on with your day. Do it to be a good example for your kids. Do it to better your community. Do it because you can…because you had a loving family, or you didn’t have a family at all, but you are here and healthy and able. Do it because if you don’t, who will?

Let’s just all come together and loudly and proudly make a commitment that we will be one part of the very big village we know it takes to raise a healthy, happy child.

Below are some of my favorite ways to get involved but I want to hear more. Join me in using #MyPartOurVillage and tag @OneSimpleWish on Twitter.

Here are 5 ways to get started in doing YOUR part:

1. Grant a wish!
It’s a simple, direct and beautiful way to share some joy with a child impacted by foster care and abuse and neglect.
2. Consider becoming a CASA.
Court Appointed Special Advocates are amazingly dedicated volunteers who act as a voice for a child in court and are a stable source of support for kids who need it.
3. Read Foster Focus Magazine
Learn more about what is going on with foster care in America and the inspiring kids and adults who are working hard to fix it.
4. Consider becoming a Foster Parent.
All you need to know is here. And you can email me too!
5. Tweet about other foster care or children’s rights organizations that you support. Tell us what you do and how to do it. Don’t forget to use #MyPartOurVillage and tag@OneSimpleWish so we can share your ideas!

Please remember that whatever you choose to do, one way or the other, it will matter.

Follow Foster Care Kids Need Love Too on Twitter: https://twitter.com/FosterLoveToo

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Young Girls In State Care To Get Transitional Home

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Construction is slated to begin soon on the Caribbean’s first independent living complex for wards of the State, following Friday’s official groundbreaking ceremony at 24 Lady Musgrave Drive, New Kingston.

Upon completion, the facility will be equipped to house at lease 40 young women who have reached the age of 18, when, by law, they are required to leave their places of safety, irrespective of whether they have a job or place to live.

Under the Transitional Living Program for Children in State Care, these young women will spend up to two additional years in the care of the state.

Dr Luz Longsworth, principal of the Open Campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI), used the groundbreaking ceremony to announce the gift of 30 one-year scholarships to the pioneer residents of the complex. Another 15 such scholarships will be provided to young men, also wards of the state, at the tertiary level as well.

Luis Moreno, United States ambassador to Jamaica, gave a commitment that his country would fund a similar facility for young men, to be built in Manning, St Elizabeth. The United States Agency for International Development is funding the Kingston facility at a cost of US$1.45 million under the Development Grants Program, in what Youth and Culture Minister Lisa Hanna described as a game-changing partnership.

With the Jamaican Government donating prime land space in New Kingston’s ‘Golden Triangle’, the project will be implemented through the collaborative efforts of the Caribbean Child Development Centre, Child Development Agency, the Social Welfare Centre, and the UWI Project Management Office.

Meanwhile, Rosalee Gage-Grey, chief executive officer of the Child Development Agency, spoke to the importance of this intervention.

VERY SIGNIFICANT

“It is very significant because we have about 700 children that leave care each year. Some of them are in foster care, and the foster parents will continue to keep them; some can be reintegrated with their own families. We have some who come into Kingston for tertiary education and need a place, and so it will provide a space where they can move from university to work for the period of the two years, and so its very significant,” she told The Gleaner.

“And it’s semi-independent, meaning that they will take care of themselves, with some support. So they will be comfortable with individualized spaces, and we will continue to provide the support, the life skills for them to transition successfully.”

A clearly excited Hanna gave this response when asked to gauge the significance of the new facility.

On a scale of 1-10?

“Eleven!” she answered, noting that it will address an area of need that has been neglected for too long.

“It’s a long time in the making, and its something that I’m very pleased with; conceptualized it, UWI came on board, USAID came on board, and now they’ve said to us, we are going to be working on the contract for the one for the boys in St Elizabeth. We gave the land, UWI is giving the social work and the training, USAID is putting up the money, so there is a lot of equity going into this,” she added.

However, the youth minister would not commit to the completion timeline for the Kingston facility or the start-up for the one slated for St Elizabeth.

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Church hopes to match kids with foster families

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WAYNESBORO — Sonya Payne remembers her best birthday ever.

It was in 2010, the day she legally adopted her foster daughter Ariel Simone Payne, 16.

Ariel wasn’t the first child that Payne has fostered. In fact, Payne estimates that she’s legally fostered 40 children since 1993, and taken in over 70, even if only temporarily.

“That’s why we call her superwoman,” said Ariel’s adoptive sister Taimonique Payne, 15 and a half years old.

Payne decided to become a foster parent while working with battered women, and seeing the effect it had on both the women and children.

“It was too much,” Payne said. “I told my husband, we have to do something to help these kids.”

She read about her first foster child in the newspaper in 1993 and the rest is history.

Even with families like the Paynes, there are still local children in the foster care system that do not currently have homes and are at risk of aging out of the system, which severely affects their chances of success once they become adults, said Jennifer Eccles, foster parent and member of the mission team at First Baptist Church in Waynesboro. There are 163 kids in foster homes locally, but 14 that don’t have somewhere to call home.

That’s why the church decided to hold a summit about foster care, with a panel of foster care workers, parents and adopted teenagers, to inform the community about the need for more participation in the foster care system.

The summit was Sunday afternoon and about 25 people attended, Eccles said.

“The church feels very strongly that we have a calling to help these kids in our community,” said the mom of six. “They need families.”

One of the main focuses of the summit was on the need for care for older children and children with siblings, specifically, Eccles said. Removing the stigma that older children come with more problems is key.

“This is not about bad behavior,” Eccles said of why children end up in the foster care system. “It’s because of abuse or neglect.”

Both Ariel and Taimonique spoke about being adopted and what they would tell other foster parents if they could.

“Never give up on your adopted kids,” Taimonique said. They may have difficult behavior and difficulty adjusting, but never to give up.

For more information about foster parenting call Jennifer Edson or Heather Hudnall at Shenandoah Valley Social Services at 540-245-5800.

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“Never Give Up” Foster Care Kids Need Love Too Fundraiser

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Good afternoon Foster Care Kids Need Love Too Family!

Make sure you purchase your “Never Give Up” Foster Care Kids Need Love Too T-shirts today! we need to sell 25 shirts in order to get them ship. We want to think BonfireFunds.com for reaching out and supporting our movement. We can not do it without you guys love and support. Together we can make a change. http://alturl.com/wm9bw  ‪#‎FosterCare‬ ‪#‎Adoption‬ ‪#‎Fundraiser‬ ‪#‎FosterCareKidsNeedLoveToo‬ ‪#‎Support‬ ‪#‎Charity‬ ‪#‎Unity‬ ‪#‎Love‬ ‪#‎Awareness

500 Children Adopted During Holiday Season!

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TALLAHASSEE, FL—More than 500 children from Pensacola to Miami were adopted during dozens of November celebrations of National Adoption Month. “Our goal for children in foster care is to find a forever family who will love them, accept them and give them the home that they deserve,” said Department of Children and Families Secretary David Wilkins. “I am so proud of our agency and our partners who are always looking for a permanent home for our kids.” Florida’s Explore Adoption campaign takes place each November. A newly redesigned website at http://www.adoptflorida.org highlighted amazing children and sibling groups in foster care each day of the month with photos and videos. The children most in need of homes are teens, sibling groups and children with special needs whose biggest dream is to be part of a permanent, loving family. “I would like to thank all of our wonderful parents who adopted children this month, and throughout this year,” said Florida’s Chief Child Advocate Zack Gibson, Director of the Governor’s Office of Adoption and Child Protection. “National Adoption Month may be over, but our work is not finished. There are still about 750 children waiting for a family to call their own.” More than 500 adoptions have been reported from our community-based care partners across the state. All of the adoptions have not yet been reported, so the number may still increase. Last year, 3,250 children were adopted from Florida’s foster care system. That was the fifth year in a row that more than 3,000 children were adopted from foster care, bringing the total to more than 17,000. Additionally, over the past two years, Florida has significantly reduced the number of children in foster care available for adoption without an identified family. Florida’s children come into foster care through no fault of their own but because they were abused, neglected or abandoned. They come from varied backgrounds, circumstances, races and ethnicities. While some have specific medical, physical or emotional issues that require special care, many do not. Their entire life histories are shared with prospective adoptive parents. While private adoption can cost more than $30,000, adopting one of Florida’s children in foster care costs little or nothing. The benefits include a monthly adoption subsidy for the family, health benefits for the child, and free college tuition at a Florida public university, community college or vocational school. For more information about the “30 Days of Amazing Children: Explore Adoption!” initiative or general questions about adoption of foster children in Florida, please visit www.adoptflorida.org, please visit to send your donations at http://www.gofundme.com/fepxos  call 1-800-962-3678 (1-800-96-ADOPT), or check out our Twitter feed at @ExploreAdoption.

MANY UNACCOMPANIED FOREIGN CHILDREN RECEIVING BETTER CARE THAN US FOSTER KIDS

On June 13, DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson told reporters in a press conference that the federal government would do what was in the “best interest” of thousands of unaccompanied alien children (UACs) crossing the border into south Texas every week. He also denied that the taxpayer-funded care being provided to them was serving as an incentive to Central American families to send more of their children. But a closer look at the services UACs are receiving while they go through removal proceedings tells a different story.

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Over the last several weeks, US Border Patrol stations in south Texas have been overrun with illegal immigrants from mostly Central America. Johnson said that since October 2013, agents have apprehended over 47,000 UACs, roughly double the 24,000 UACs who were apprehended the previous fiscal year. Prior to 2012, the average number of UACs under US government supervision averaged around 7,500 kids. According to procedures outlined in the Homeland Security Act of 2002, he stated the goal was to transport these children in “a safe and human manner” to the US Department of Health and Human Services, where they would be cared for by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR).

The primary goal of the ORR is to reunited UACs with family members or other legal guardians in the United States while they go through removal proceedings. However, if those family members or guardians are in the country illegally, there was no indication by DHS officials that those individuals would also be placed into removal proceedings despite the fact they have to provide a considerable amount of identification in order to claim a UAC.

Procedures for transporting and caring for UACs depend on the children’s ages. According to the ORR’s Division for Unaccompanied Children’s Services (DUCS), most UACs over the age of 13 are placed in shelters or group homes. However, for UACs ages 13 and younger who don’t have a relative or guardian who can care for them, “short and long-term foster care is available through ORR’s foster care program network.”

The services these 58 licensed ORR facilities provide are extensive: “The facilities, which operate under cooperative agreements and contracts, provide children with classroom education, health care, socialization/recreation, vocational training, mental health services, family reunification, access to legal services, and case management.” But perhaps the most interesting claim by DUCS is “Ensuring that the interests of the UAC are considered in decisions related to their care and custody.” The “best interest” of UACs coming from gang war-torn countries like Honduras is almost always a permanent stay here in the United States.

Johnson defended the services being provided to UACs while going through removal proceedings. “We provide a number of things [for UACs] because our laws require it and our values require it,” he said. He also said that those apprehended at our borders are priorities for removal regardless of age—a sentiment echoed by ICE Executive Associate Director for Enforcement and Removal Operations Tom Homan, who said, “Every [unaccompanied] child is placed into removal proceedings.”

But the circumstances for those children in removal proceedings are plush in some cases compared to US citizen children placed in foster care. According to Children’s Rights, a national advocacy group working to reform failing child welfare systems, “many child welfare systems are underfunded, understaffed, beset by serious system-wide problems, and lacking the leadership necessary to fix them.” Some of the claims the group makes are that US child welfare systems fail to protect children in foster care from further abuse and neglect, don’t provide adequate medical and mental health services, and warehouse children in institutions, group homes, emergency shelters.

This means one of two things. Either UACs apprehended at the border are being placed into the same system as US citizen children and not receiving nearly the adequate level of care the ORR says it is providing, or UACs are placed into a different federal foster network that provides a superior level of care to that being provided to US citizen children.

The legal support US citizen children in foster care and UACs receive can also vary wildly. During court proceedings, American kids in foster care are assigned a lawyer by the judge in their family court to oversee their cases, according to The Legal Aid Society. For UACs, the DUCS engages in “coordination of a pro-bono attorney outreach project to pilot pro-bono capacity building models in major immigration apprehension areas so that more UAC can have access to legal representation.”

While the US government does not pay for legal representation for UACs, many of the children receive assistance from top-notch immigration attorneys who take part in programs like The Safe Passage Project. In May 2014, Director Lenni Benson wrote a letter to The New York Times in which she said, “Our organization, Safe Passage Project, finds that nearly 90 percent of the unaccompanied minors we meet who are facing deportation qualify for immigration relief, allowing them to remain in the United States legally.” Benson also added, “While emergency shelters provide a temporary solution for unaccompanied minors entering the United States, appointed legal counsel to enable these vulnerable young people to receive the immigration remedies for which they might be eligible would provide permanency and would truly be in their best interests.”

To say that all these benefits being provided to UACs are not acting as an incentive for families in Central America to send even more children is misleading, irresponsible, and is further eroding the efforts of our law enforcement agencies to control our southwest border.

Sylvia Longmire is a border security expert and Contributing Editor for Breitbart Texas. You can read more about the evolution of cross-border migration in her new book,Border Insecurity: Why Big Money, Fences, and Drones Aren’t Making Us Safer.

 

Fostering A Better Future

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Family of Foster Care Kids Need Love Too, Vicki and Brian Bolick adopted a 7-year-old girl this year after first serving as her foster parents. For this article, they chose to keep her identity private.
Family of Foster Care Kids Need Love Too, Vicki and Brian Bolick adopted a 7-year-old girl this year after first serving as her foster parents. For this article, they chose to keep her identity private.

 

Brian Bolick had his arms wrapped around his 7-year-old daughter, playfully hugging her captive.

“What’s the magic word?” he asked.

She wiggled a bit before yelling “please,” but he only hugged her closer.

“It’s peanut butter,” Bolick exclaimed, as he opened his arms and the giggling little girl went running.

From watching them, it’s unlikely anyone would guess they aren’t biologically related.

What not even the Bolicks would have guessed, though, is the path that brought the family together.

Brian Bolick and his wife, Vicki, had been hoping to adopt an older child for years but didn’t know where to start.

“It’s a weird chain of events that got us to where we are,” he said. “To me, it was kind of fated in a way.”

It began when Bolick signed up in 2009 for Leadership Forsyth, an educational program that helps community members learn how to get involved.

Each year’s class selects a service project, and Bolick recalled hearing from many nonprofits with suggestions.

He felt a personal call to help when listening to the executive director of a then-emerging organization called Supporting Adoption and Foster Families Together, or SAFFT.

“I remember Ashley [Anderson] up there making her presentation,” he said, “and just me thinking, well this is exactly what we’ve been talking about. There’s no excuses. Here’s a way.”

They had planned on having a child naturally, Vicki Bolick said, “but it just never happened.”

Feeling happy as a family, but not whole, the couple had floated the topic of adoption for years. It wasn’t until hearing Anderson speak that they really began the process.

Brian Bolick decided to get involved with SAFFT even if the group didn’t select that project, but apparently others were as moved as he was with the organization’s work.

The class voted to renovate a home to create a safe visitation center for families. When the project was complete, Brian Bolick continued his work with SAFFT by joining the nonprofit’s board.

The couple had learned a lot about adoption through volunteer work with SAFFT and the friendships they formed. But even so, they had little success at first working with a private agency.

“We had more resources at our disposal than I would say the average person, and yet it was still very difficult,” he said. “Months and months would go by, and we would never hear from them about any children. We couldn’t understand it.”

What they eventually learned was that the path to adopt a newborn baby and an older child isn’t the same.

Older children are in foster care, and are typically reunified with a biological family member or adopted by their foster parents.

“If you want to adopt an older child, you pretty much need to be a foster parent,” Brian Bolick said.

Anderson, SAFFT director, suggested they work through the Department of Family and Children Services, or DFCS, instead of the private agency.

“Why don’t you guys just foster,” Anderson recalled saying, “and if a child is meant to be, it will happen.”

They started as a respite foster family, or one that is approved to care for a child when the primary foster parent cannot or needs a break.

In spring 2012, the Bolicks first began to spend time with the girl who would eventually become their daughter, whose identity they chose to keep private for this article.

They were about to leave for a cruise that April when they received a call from DFCS asking if they could take the girl for a week while her foster parent was out of town.

They canceled the trip.

“We knew that we were a possibility for her, and we loved her so much,” Brian Bolick said.

The couple got to spend more time with the girl. By June, they were approved as her foster parents.

Vicki Bolick said the months afterward were an emotional wait, wondering if the adoption would happen or if someone would come forward for her.

“You just don’t know,” she said. “So we took a chance because we felt like even if it didn’t work out, at least we would have made an impact and otherwise we were always better because of her.”

In March, the wait was over. They became a family.

There’s no doubt in their minds that they were “just meant to be,” Vicki Bolick said.

The years of waiting and of confusion hadn’t been without reason.

“It never felt right until we met her, and then I just knew,” she said. “I remember the first time I saw her. It was at the SAFFT Christmas event.

“We were just looking over at the playground and she was playing. I didn’t even really know much about her story, but I remember just looking over and I told Brian, ‘That’s going to be our child someday.’”

The Bolicks have continued their involvement with SAFFT — only there are three of them now.

The organization recently moved into its new, larger building on Castleberry Road, and Vicki Bolick lent her interior design talents — with the help of her daughter — to make the place a welcome one for children, the one their girl remembers.

The two are also willing to share their story, in hopes that others thinking of fostering or adopting can learn something about the difficult but rewarding journey.

Foster care, they found, still has a stigma. Some people would question why they were doing it.

Brian Bolick said he also thought people didn’t understand the true benefits of adoption and fostering.

“People say, ‘Oh, that’s a great thing you guys are doing,’” he said. “It’s really, we’ve gotten a lot more out of it.”

As Vicki Bolick recalled, Forsyth County Juvenile Court Judge Russell Jackson told them early on in the process that they didn’t need “a child,” but “the child.”

And they found her, she said.

“I always felt she was born in my heart.”

Meet Lisa Foster Care Kids Need Love Too Member

We want to thank Lisa Sternberg a member of the Foster Care Kids Need Love Too Family! for sharing her story. Meet Lisa, 27 years ago this day, DEC 20th 1986, five days before Christmas, I became a foster kid. I entered the “system”, set to be another statistic. The cards stacked against me, set to fail by society standards. Just another kid with a messed up life thanks to the sickness of a father. And it sucked…. a lot….and it hurt….still does. I spent years holding my breath waiting for life to go back to the way it was before, not understanding then that that life would have destroyed me even further than it already had. I almost gave up, I was ready to fail, I was ready to let the cards fall, I was part of the system…..
But what the system and the cards and society didn’t know is that there was this seed planted in me, long before anyone knew my name. I had this power to be an overcomer. I had this strength that no one else saw in me but God. I ran from Him, hated him, tried everything I could to destroy his creation…me. I drank as a teen, long before sixteen. I smoked. I attempted suicide, more than once, more than twice, more…, I was raped, I was promiscuous, I did drugs, I did all the things the world was telling me would make me feel better…and if I did them I would be normal, loved, not a number….all lies. Truth, God was there thru it all, waiting for me to fall.
Even thru all the turmoil I tried to put my best face and foot forward, and I had goals. I have traveled a lot and seen enough to feel life. I graduated high school with high honors and a full scholarship to College (from the system DCFS). I served my country (GO ARMY). I have a good life and great friends. I finally stopped being mad at God and let him have my life, he had it all along, and I just had to realize it would be better if he was in control. But perhaps the best thing I have ever done and the greatest lesson in life is the fact that I gave life to three beautiful children who will, God willing, never have to say on this day….I became a foster kid. Please support our movement. It takes a brave person with courage to share a sadden story. send your monetary donations to our cause https://www.wepay.com/donations/fostercarekidsneedlovetoo “Drawing Success” for the youth of our nation Happy Holidays!

Our organization has the best interest of foster kids of this nation

Foster Care Kids Need Love Too

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Foster Kids Need Love Too® is an organization that has the best interest of foster kids of this nation at their heart. As a nation we obsess over the bringing up of our children. We make sure to provide them with the best quality of education for their mental growth; we provide the best food to our children to give them a healthy lifestyle; we provide them with the best medical facilities; and all this very rightly so, they are our children after all who will take the mantel of running this nation tomorrow, all this is their right and all of this will be provided by any parent worth their salt.
But take a moment here and consider those children who are the same age as your very own kids. Unfortunately for them there is no way to get all the best treatment in the world because they do not have any family that takes care of them and because they are all alone on this planet.
Think of the consequences for such a child. Lost in the world, they could end up on the wrong paths of criminality or abuse. If they make to a mature age, with their past marred with trouble and nothing good, they could end up in a lifelong destructing cycle of crime, of substance abuse and even of violence.
Think for a moment that just because they did not have a person in their life to guide them, these young minds which could have been put to great use of the civilization have gone rotten at the cruel hands of the unforgiving society.
That kid could have been you.
If not for that person who was there for you when you needed them the most; the person who listened to you and gave you a hand when you found yourself seeking a way out of a mess. At Foster Kids Need Love Too® we want to be that family for the unfortunate and underprivileged kids of our nation who are out there as we speak trying to navigate through the adversities of life, in need of person to look up to. We love foster kids and we want them to be our family. We want them to be a part of the bright future of our nation and we are determined in our quest to provide such children with food, care, education and above all, love.
Foster Kids Need Love Too® can only achieve this with your help. You can impart a child with a once in a life time fighting chance to turn their life around for better. Don’t you want to be the person to change a child’s future for the good? Don’t you want to be the person to hold the hand of one young child that may not be your own but will reply to your generosity with the impartial love of a child?
Foster Kids Need Love Too® will continue down this path of empathy and love and with your help we can keep on ‘Drawing Success’

Please send your monetary donations by clicking this URL link for Foster Care Kids Need Love Too https://www.wepay.com/donations/fostercarekidsneedlovetoo Thank you an god bless!

New program to provide jobs for foster-care youths in Orlando

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For scores of Central Florida foster teens who turn 18 each year, aging out of the state’s custody means no place to live, no job, no drivers license and no transportation.

Although teen unemployment is at historically high levels, for foster youths the rate has been reported as high as 85 percent, and many end up homeless, in jail or on public assistance.

That’s why local nonprofit agencies are teaming with foster-care officials to get them the internships and job-mentoring programs that are typically a rite of passage for other kids.

Several employers — including Panera Bread, Westgate Resorts and Orlando Senior Health Network — already work with such teens. But Workforce Central Florida will approach others to join a new federally funded pilot project that will cover training and three months of salaries and benefits for foster youths.

“We’re looking to manufacturing, we’re looking to hospitality, we’re looking to health care, and we’re looking to where we can align the youth with the right opportunities,” said Workforce President and CEO Pamela Nabors.

Every year, about 170 kids age out of the foster-care system in Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties.

“These kids are in foster care because the adults in their lives have failed them,” said Joe Kilsheimer, an ApopkaCity Council member who chairs the City of Life Foundation — a nonprofit organization that pushed Workforce to address the issue. “They belong to all of us. And if they’re channeled in the right direction, they can become happy, productive, taxpaying citizens.”

As evidence, there is Nicole Rodriguez, who was placed in an Orlando foster-care group home at 14. When she aged out of care at 18, she had no job, no money and no choice but to return to the family once deemed unfit to care for her. She eventually spent time living out of a car.

But because she had learned job skills in her final year of foster care and had a mentor through City of Life, she was able to land a job at Orlando Senior Health Network, and she enrolled in Valencia. Now 22, she has been promoted, owns a car, is four classes shy of a degree — and just signed a mortgage on a home in east Orange County.

“It was a hard mountain to climb, but it’s possible,” she said. “Foster kids are the same as anyone else, and they need the same chances as anyone else.”

Sometimes, though, they need a little more guidance. Few have had summer or part-time jobs. Their lives often are filled with the instability of frequent moves and changing schools. They may never have learned how to dress for the workplace or developed decent communication skills.

The local franchise of Panera Bread discovered the obstacles after launching a foster-youth employment program three years ago with a simple group orientation, some basic instructions — and not much more.

“We went way too hard way too fast and soon fell right on our face,” said Eryn Catter, director of public relations for the franchise. “We [quickly] found ourselves with only a handful of these employees left.”

A year ago, the company revamped the program to include more one-on-one time with the foster youths to determine what each needed. Transportation turned out to be a major hurdle, and in many cases the teens couldn’t afford their work uniforms. The company started a fundraising initiative to help.

The changes are working.

“We hope to move forward and hire more [foster youths] this year,” Catter said.

Workforce plans to start slowly.

Gerard Glynn, an attorney, longtime child-welfare advocate and City of Life adviser, said the most important elements are having one stable adult in the teens’ lives and simply giving them that first chance.

“We don’t want them to continue to be dependent on government,” Glynn said. “We want to teach them to get up and show up. So we emphasize getting that first job, not getting a forever job. Once they do that, they can learn the skills to work on their forever job.”

ksantich@tribune.com or 407-420-5503. Employers interested in joining the Workforce pilot program can call 407-531-1200.