In 2002, Lisa Castetter was forever impacted by her experience as a volunteer at a summer camp for teens in foster care, hosted by Mariners Church in Southern California.
That weekend she watched a boy stuff his backpack with apples from the lunch table, fearful he wouldn’t be fed again over the weekend. She saw the physical marks left by deliberate and repetitive acts of self-harm teens used to cope with the severe trauma of abuse. And she learned of the daunting statistics that follow teenagers leaving foster care.
Then there was the boy who 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. Camp was a safe place where he could be himself.
The fact that kids faced such horrors – and that something as simple as a weekend at camp could be so freeing – was a defining moment for Lisa. Teen Leadership Foundation ultimately was born of her overwhelming sense that the needs of these youth must not be overlooked. As Lisa deepened her involvement in foster care ministries and became a mentor to girls in foster care, God began to work in her heart until ultimately she surrendered to her life’s calling. In 2007, she left her career as an apparel and textile industry executive for a life of significance, standing in the gap for those impacted by abuse and neglect.
Teen Leadership Foundation formally launched later that year with a mission to eternally improve the lives of emancipating foster teens through leadership equipping programs. Starting with summer camps, Teen Leadership Foundation has since expanded to include life skills workshops, mentoring, monthly youth groups, and transitional housing to help prepare teens for meaningful, successful lives beyond foster care.