Emily’s Story of Hope, Success, and Dreams

Emily’s story is one of hope, success, and dreams. Emily came to Teen Leadership Foundation from Nevada where she was trafficked as a young woman. When she arrived at TLF, she came bearing uncertainty, trepidation, a desire to move forward, and a beautiful four year old son.

Emily quickly got settled in to the Launch Pad with her son, and voiced her dream of becoming a biologist. With her new found shelter and safety for both her son and herself, she was able to turn her attention to her studies. She worked hard, attending Fullerton College, and was accepted in California State University of Long Beach.

Emily has successfully launched out of the Launch Pad. She’s moved to Long Beach, to a studio with her son, where she will be able to continue to focus on her studies and work towards her goal of being a biologist. This is no small dream, but this young woman has the drive and stamina to achieve it.

The safety provided by TLF and the Launch Pad not only helped Emily to realize a dream and set in motion a plan to succeed, it has also been a place of safety and healing for her son. We were able to provide him with a bed, help him get stabilized in preschool, and provide him with speech therapy, where he has come a long way from having little to no speech when he arrived at the Launch Pad.

Emily’s story is an important story to tell because it shows how stability in housing set her up to dream, and pursue that dream for her and her son. When foster youth turn 18 in California, they lose access to the support systems that have been available to them through the welfare system. Research shows that within 18 months of aging out of the foster care system, 40-50% of youth become homeless. Because housing efficacy is directly related to self sufficiency, young adults with stable housing will be more likely to stay in school and maintain employment.

The Launch Pad provides stable and safe housing for youth who have formerly experienced the foster care system. Beyond that, we come around these young adults and provide them with personal mentor relationships, workshops to help them build skills to be successful adults, and the support they need to pursue their education dreams, just like Emily was able to.

Because of COVID, we are having to work hard to Bridge the Gap in their education needs that distance learning has created. While stable housing is the first step, we are not stopping there. We are going to provide our residents with a dedicated study space, supplemental therapy to address the anxiety of the pandemic and distance learning, computers, printers, money for books, and any other tangible need they may have in order to successfully attend school this semester.

Donate now to our Bridge the Gap fund and don’t miss out on changing the lives of former foster youth.

On Distance Learning for Former Foster Youth

This spring, our academic world changed overwhelmingly as we embraced distance learning. Schools in Orange County closed in March, at first with the hope of reopening after weeks, but it quickly became clear school wouldn’t be returning to normal for the rest of the academic year.


The fix for replacing in person lessons was technology. This immediately highlighted socio economic disparities between students in schools. Some students didn’t have access to computers, web cameras, or the internet. And when students weren’t showing up to class, teachers didn’t have a good way of communicating with them. 


All students have been negatively impacted by distance learning, but we know that former foster youth are already at a disadvantage in school before distance learning. High school dropout rates are almost three times higher for foster youth, and less than ten percent of former foster youth graduate from college. Because of these realities, many universities, including Orange Coast College, have a dedicated program to wrap around former foster youth to help them navigate college life and all the unique difficulties they are facing because of their past. These programs help in many ways: priority registration for classes, academic counseling, financial aid application assistance, and being a safe place for students to drop in anytime when feeling overwhelmed. 


For the fall, Orange Coast College is continuing with distance learning and online classes. Unfortunately, this means that our residents won’t have the same access to the wrap around program. They are all feeling higher levels of anxiety as they try to navigate registering for classes, purchasing books, and making sure they have a space at home where they can attend class without distraction. 


TLF is stepping in to bridge the gap in our residents’ education during COVID-19. Our hope is to create a dedicated school space in the common room, provide reliable computers, printers, internet access, help with purchasing books and other academic financial needs, supplement their online learning with dedicated tutors, and encourage a community learning environment we know can be beneficial to their academic careers. 


Donate NOW to help us Bridge the Gap in their education needs. 

Through the Lens of Abundance not Scarcity

As the end of the year is approaching it is a great time for reflection, the holidays bring all sorts of emotions this time of the year. I look back on my life and the opportunities I have been given and I am truly grateful. There was a time in my life when I believed myself to be a charity case. That the only reason I could see anyone helping me out during my life, was to satisfy their own needs to help the “needy”. I then learned that there was so much more to my interpretation of the story.  A mentor once told me  that you cannot be angry and grateful at the same time. That statement really stuck with me. At the time, I was so angry at the world, I felt as an  outcast, taken advantage of and truly in despair. It is from this place that my gifts were born, where God showed me that I am responsible for the way I chose to be the interpreter in my life.

As I began to take hold of my narrative, I saw a multitude stories. In one, I was the charity case, another the Selfish Taker, the survivor a constantly cared for foster youth, who was always at the mercy of those who provided for her, and so much so that when they no longer saw my “need” that I would no longer be of importance. On the flip side, I could decide that I was not entitled to anything, that I was part of God’s plan and my purpose required a diverse upbringing that made me relatable to so many more people because of my experiences. This may seem a cliché twist to see the good in the suffering, but by this I stand.

I believe transformation took place in my life when I quit looking at my life through the lens of scarcity. As a foster youth many of us are born into the mentality of having our worlds defined for us that when given the opportunity to choose our own it is a scary place. A place where we feel ill equipped and at times at a stand still to even accomplish the basic life skills, parenting, and most importantly the act of giving love. When I looked around however, I saw this “mental illness” abundant in other people from completely different situations or circumstances. It was then I decided that I was going to allow Love to win. Each family that said yes to provide for me was a winner in my story, a champion to my cause, for my living was the source for their reasons, it was the results that mattered most. The results that I am a healthy 29 year old, college graduate, who is living independently, that I seek to have a family, and hope to be a foster parent myself someday.

At 29, I see a bright future ahead for my brothers and sisters in foster care and it is organizations such as Teen Leadership Foundation who continue to improve the statistics by improving the ability for foster youth to truly connect through relationships. It is this mission to not just raise funds but to maintain a clear action plan that inspires me to feel so strongly to partner in any way possible with this community. As the year 2020 approaches it is my prayer that Teen Leadership Foundation receives abundant supply so that lives of foster youth are changed and that the next generation of foster youth will look back unlike the generations before and say, LOVE WINS!

–  Foster Youth Alumni, Entrepreneur and  Speaker

“I will not leave you orphaned”- Jesus Christ

From Abandoned to Loved!

I was born and raised surrounded by alcohol, drugs, and sex by the time I was 5 years old and was basically the mother of my 3 younger siblings (so I felt).  One day my mom abandoned me at school. My teacher took me home, and after a few days called child protective services. I was sent to foster care. That was 10 years ago!

After some time being in foster care I got the opportunity to attend camp. I just had my 18thbirthday and this past summer was my last time attending TLC. Each year I was able to see the same counselors. I look forward to camp each year; it’s a community of people who really care about you. Each year as camp ends we all make a pact to see each other again in one year. My first year at camp my counselor and I really bonded and she has been a mentor ever since. As my last year of school ends and I am exploring the direction of life she is right there with me with each decision.  She has been the one consistent person in my life for multiple years now.

My life has changed in so many ways from attending camp and being matched with a mentor. You can be a part of changing a life like mine.

-become a camp counselor – become a long term mentor- provide resources for Teen Leadership Foundation to continue its programs.

Elissa; former camper and emancipated youth

Out of Despair into Community…

Dina was devastated. Her grandmother died unexpectedly, and without her, Dina and her toddler son soon would be homeless.

Years of neglect by her mother led Dina to foster care as a teen, but eventually her grandmother was able to take her in. But with her grandmother gone, Dina was filled with fear. What was next? A shelter? The streets?

Because of the support of donors like you, there was in fact an ideal place for Dina to turn: the Launch Pad transitional housing program.

Your gifts ensured that Dina and her son soon had their own apartment, a team of trained life skills volunteers, and caring staff who connected her to childcare, employment, and education. The best is Dina had the opportunity to be a part of a community Bible study and was baptized last year. At the Launch Pad with other young women from foster care, most of whom also have children, Dina found a community she now considers family.

Instead of a life of despair, Dina has a fulfilling future ahead. In January, she and her son will graduate from the Launch Pad, and Dina will transfer to Cal State Fullerton to complete her degree in human development. She has a full-time job and proudly drives a car she paid for herself.

A Camp Director’s Perspective

Hello TLF friends,

My name is Shelly Swope, and I am one of the many volunteer leaders that have the privilege of guiding my church through Teen Leadership Camp in the summer. I recently returned from camp and would love to share a few thoughts.

My heroes at camp are anything but ordinary. They are teenagers whose lives have been ravaged by their experiences with the child welfare system. They have known trauma and deep loss. They have felt overlooked, unseen, and unwanted. They have learned to be adults years too soon, taking responsibility seriously and investing their time in caring for their siblings with fierce vigilance. They have learned to walk with strength and bravery – to face the unthinkable with endurance.

So many of the teens expressed throughout the weekend that TLC has changed their lives – that they come because we are a family. At the fire pit, we had a sharing time and there were heartfelt moments of appreciation for this group.  During our affirmation time, the teens were generous and wholeheartedly embraced and celebrated the other campers. It is beautiful to see them exhibit their belief in one another and to walk together in joy.

At camp I saw them step out of their stories and refuse to let their past define their potential. They’ve given me new eyes to see with compassion and care, and I am profoundly changed by their presence in my life.


Workout Bonding

One of the residents at the Launch Pad recently asked someone on our staff if they could work out together (The Launch Pad has a gym on campus). They started working out then asked the Launch Pad Resident Coordinator to join, as well. Shortly after that, another TLF staff said she wanted to workout too, so by the end of the evening we had two more residents join us! For some, it was the first time they had ever worked out. Everyone worked out together; they laughed and pushed themselves!

That was one of our residents’ favorite evenings at the Launch Pad; they all bonded and really got to encourage one another. It was not about the workout or fitness as much as it was about team building and doing something together!

Purchase this image at http://www.stocksy.com/219377

We have all decided that working out together was going to become a thing to weave into our summer plans at the Launch Pad for our residents and team to experience!


Merveille spent four years in a Congolese refugee camp before fleeing her war-torn homeland for the U.S. with her mother at the age of 11. With her relationship with her mother deteriorating, Merveille found herself in foster care two years later. Now 20, she has been at the Launch Pad for a year and a half and has made great strides thanks to her perseverance and the support of her “flight crew” team of volunteers. (i.e. parent coach, mentor, tutor and budget coach)

Merveille enrolled in cosmetology school and obtained her license in June 2017, and now has a full-time job at the salon where she’s been working part time as an apprentice. Her daughter, Faith, is enrolled in pre-school, and Merveille is better equipped as a parent thanks to the tools she gained from her parenting coach. Also, with the help of her driving and budgeting coaches, Merveille obtained her driver license and purchased her first car. She has also grown spiritually through her involvement in a community study held at the Launch Pad and led by a former Launch Pad resident along with a long-time volunteer leader.

Merveille has begun her final stages at The Launch Pad where she has been saving for housing, insurance, establish credit and preparing herself to “launch” this month. She is a beautiful reminder of what Launch Pad residents are capable of achieving with intentional support and mentoring.


There’s no better way to show you how TLF’s model of wrapping around youth is working for local foster youth than to share a story of its impact. This is a small part of Annie and Junior’s story.  

“There are many [ways] camp helped me grow in my youth years…one big [way] was through the counselors; I actually felt wanted and loved by each of them individually. I was comfortable enough to open up to them right away because of the warm welcome they had shown me. Another reason was the group of kids/teenagers I was surrounded by. I didn’t feel like I was the “only one” in my situation, and there were many more just like me battling through the same things in life. I didn’t feel alone for once…
After camp, I continued to go to The Knot and had a mentor through TLF in myteen years. When I was 19 I moved into The Launch Pad.

TLF has supported me in so many amazing and different ways. My volunteer parenting coach taught me a lot about becoming a better mother to my son. TLF helped me obtained a scholarship through a local trade college to get my dialysis program certificate. I was able to save and buy my first car through the help of my budget coach. The on-site care coordinators always are there for me, and take time to listen to me when I get overwhelmed by life.

[I recently completed] my hemodialysis program; completing the program as a single mother is one of my major achievements and I definitely wouldn’t have been able to do it without the love and support of my TLF family. Thank you TLF! -Annie

For more information on how you can become a flight crew member attend a mentor training. Dates are on our calendar. 



My name is Myrine and I have been attending Mariners Church in Irvine for over 2 years. One Holiday, my church announced the Foster Family Christmas Party and I knew immediately that I wanted to be a part of it. It was a great experience to help out families in our community during the Christmas season with a fun afternoon of food, crafts, games and gift-giving.

I have friends that have been camp counselors with TLF, and have always been interested, but apprehensive because I’m not a very “outdoorsy” or athletic person.

I wanted to step outside my comfort zone and not let fear stop me from getting more involved.

I prayed God would use me and pair me with a sweet, nice girl that I would be able to relate to and encourage. He definitely answered my prayers because I was paired with one of the sweetest, kindest girls I know. I was really impressed with my mentee because not only was she kind but also very open and honest with me from the start. We had a wonderful experience at camp – meeting new people, taking part in team building exercises, high ropes and zip lining. The theme was Never Give Up and we learned that God Never Gives Up on us and loves us no matter what. The messages and worship was so uplifting and encouraging. In just a matter of one day, the kids were so much more open to hear God’s word and sing and praise Him.

Camp gave all the youth time to getaway from their normal and allowed them to just be kids and have fun…to laugh, play and be loved on by all the counselors

I’ve been wanting to be a mentor for years but have been putting it off. I knew after camp it was time to step up and be open to be used by God to help and encourage a youth. I was happy to hear the same girl I connected with at camp was interested in a mentorship too! I’m excited to see what God has in store for us in our new mentor/mentee relationship. I look forward to spending time together, learning new skills and serving our community. I hope to be a positive role model for her and give her an outlet to have fun, see the world in a new way and become closer to God. In return, she has already blessed me with her kind and open spirit and has taught me to stay strong, keep moving forward and never give up no matter what life has deals us.

Interested in being a mentor or going to camp? Click here for more information!