A NEW MINDSET

After some time I met a friend who would become a spiritual mentor for me. She was used to bring me into a season of growing in faith. I began to see the child welfare system differently and saw more and more the Church’s role-not just one church or my church, but the global Church…God’s Church. God began to place visions in me of bringing the Church into awareness of the crisis of foster care. What would it look like to replicate the good work of one church and package it to build a bridge between other churches and government?
It was just a “wonder” – I loved my career…the travel, the fast pace, the creating of new things, but something was stirring in me and I couldn’t silence it.

KELLY

During this time while leading another camp I met Kelly – a shy and reserved 12 year old. She was failing school.
One day, her guidance counselor had called me-she had helped Kelly go to camp and had seen the impact it had on her. She asked about finding a mentor for Kelly. With mom being gone she was struggling in the home and her academics.
So, I sent her the name of a few people…but no one was responding.
I couldn’t just stand by and let a youth fall through the cracks. So, I began mentoring her.
I soon learned she just needed an outlet – someone to help guide her in school, in life, in teen years…etc. With someone to listen and, from time to time, give advice, she enrolled in a college prep program and graduated high school with an AA already in college.
I taught her how to drive – she reminded me how scary teenagers are behind the wheel (just kidding!).
I helped navigate doctors appointments, school functions, homework, college, her first car, and, in the midst of all the mundane, there were a whole lot of good talks about life. 
Today she is turning 25 and getting her masters in Psychology — the first in her family to go to college …. because someone noticed , someone saw her. I got to be a part of that.

HOW I LEARNED HELPING FOSTER YOUTH IS NOT THAT SIMPLE

Time went by and I began learning the complexity of the system and the pain behind the faces.
The teen years my mentee faced living in a group home taught me about the common, everyday issues foster youth faced: self harm, living on the streets selling her body for money…and family cycles of spiritual, emotional, and physical poverty.
With each struggle she would call me at some point, inviting me into her story-sometimes it would be after weeks of being on the streets and being caught. I would see her and we sit over a meal as she cried through the hurt she was carrying…and I knew nothing other then to pray.
While she was under 18 and leaving the group home to sell her body…the police found her she would be returned. But once she hit 18, an “adult” by legal standards, no one cared to look for her.
But I did – along with a few unhealthy and terrifying family members.

THE NEXT STEP: FROM LEARNER TO LEADER

While still in my career in the apparel and textile industry I began a journey of volunteer leading and creating ministries for foster youth over the course of the next seven years within my home church. I lead camp weekends, Christmas parties, mentor outings, and continued to mentor youth I’d met at camp, as well as strategically helped design new ways to reach kids in need.
I remember one year in particular leading a Christmas party of around 600 kids and caregivers and 300 volunteers. Someone from my team let me know a caregiver was looking for me…me? I thought to myself what is she going to complain about? What did I miss?!
As I went to greet her – she and her soon to be 18 year old foster child youth thanked me…He said this was his last year coming to this event, as he was aging out of the system. He went on to tell me that he had been with this particular foster family for the past five years and the one thing he remembers as a constant every year was this holiday party.
With tears in our eyes I gave him a hug…I have tears in my eyes typing almost a decade later.
This is the start of the journey towards TLF. You see, TLF is really a tapestry, a weaving, of small, but significant stories. Each thread matters. Each play an important role in the coming together of the big picture God had in mind as he brought small…but significant…events, relationships, and circumstances my way.

THE AFTERMATH OF CAMP

As camp ended I knew God was telling me I had to do more.
There were 2 girls that stood out to me that I wanted to mentor. Although my home church at the time had a mentoring program – we had very little training and understanding of how trauma impacts these youths and how we relate to them, as well as systematic issues that exist around the child welfare department.
I reached out to the group home these one of these girls resided – she had gone AWOL. So, I let the home know I was available and waiting for her return. Over the course of 3 weeks I would call the house everyday…and, finally, she did come back. I remember vividly walking into the charming old Santa Ana home and this girl saying to me “why would you want to mentor me? And why would you call for 3 weeks waiting on me to come back?”
And that began our relationship.
The second girl had transferred homes within the first week of retuning from camp. I remember at camp learning she had already been in four other homes that year. Not having an understanding of the system we were unable to locate her…This is a painful reality that comes with not being properly educated all that comes with advocating for foster youth.
Today, years later, I still have her name in a journal and pray for her regularly.

IT ALL STARTED AT CAMP…

In the summer of 2000 I went to a 3 day retreat for teens in foster care. 

This was the first time I had heard any of the statistics I am now overly familiar with:
Increased chance of young pregnancy.
40% incarcerated in 2-4 years after emancipation
As little as 1% graduating college
56% graduating high school… 
Not only did I memorize these statistics, but they became increasingly real as I met youth after youth who had been abandoned, neglected, abused…all by the ones who were meant to protect and nurture and love them.
It was that weekend God broke my heart for what breaks His-I finally understood what the Scriptures talked about when God calls his people to care for the orphan.
One camper particularly stood out to me. He embraced his time in the mountains with a sense of joy and confidence that belied the scars covering most of his body. On the last night of camp, this young man took his turn on the microphone to address what he felt was an obvious question: his appearance. He explained that the scars were the result of years of abuse by his father, who regularly burned him with cigarettes – until the time the embers ignited their home, killing everyone but this young man, who was severely burned.

He thanked everyone there for accepting him as just a regular kid. For the first time since the fire, he didn’t feel like he was scrutinized for how he looked or what he’d faced in his childhood. Camp was a safe place where he could be himself.

That kids faced such horrors – and that something as simple as a weekend at camp could be so freeing – was a defining moment for me that would change the trajectory of my life forever.

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