WHAT MENTORING THROUGH TLF HAS TAUGHT ME ABOUT REAL LOVE

One of the biggest blessings in my life has become mentoring my youth at TLF. My heart cries joyful tears in getting to know such a special person. I have been mentoring her for over three years now, and she has added a lot of fun and joy to my life. I could have never asked for or imagined what this journey would hold, and it far exceeded my expectations.

I have seen my mentee grow in self-confidence and know who she is as God made her.

I didn’t expect to grow as much as I have. The biggest change through this relationship has been my capacity to love. This is not about changing someone but meeting them where they are at. I entered into this relationship thinking I was coming in as an agent of change that I was going to teach her, rescue her, and show her “the way.”

Instead, I have learned to be a true agent of change, it’s simply about loving and being there for my mentee. I say “simple” because it is doing the obvious things that may not seem like huge impactors, but they are–like listening, remembering what she’s shared, and asking good questions. It doesn’t take a lot.

We do all kinds of things together: bowling, hiking, watching movies, playing Monopoly, eating out, and talking. We enjoy outdoor concerts with picnics and attending plays. We have attended several independent living workshops together and go to church every Sunday together.

Our latest favorite thing to do is to go walking and talk at the beach. We also work on a lot of practical life goals. She has become a part of my family.

Children in foster care have a million people telling them what to do–they go years without a voice. though they have done nothing wrong.

What they truly need is not someone telling them what to do, but someone who is on their side. This looks like listening, caring, advocating, and having fun with them. I have learned so much about the practicalities of love through her and the heart God has given me for her.

Most of all, I see the need for how He is looking for willing vessels who will partner with Him. I cannot put enough words to how moved my heart is in experiencing the growth of my mentee and the privilege of our relationship.

 

For 15 years, our amazing volunteers, mentors, donors, and partners have helped thousands of courageous young women and men to rebuild their lives. Your generous support has provided TLF with the tools we need to be the church in action–with an unwavering commitment to change the course of lives of some of our nation’s most vulnerable youth experiencing abuse and neglect. You hold a special place in all of TLF’s hearts!

 

 

How the Launch Pad Transformed Me

TLF’s team has made all the difference for me. A TLF staffer and I acknowledged how far I’ve come since the time I lived there, and she asked me what the difference has been between me before TLF vs. now. The difference is TLF has surrounded me with a support system that I did not have before. Whether it’s the behind-the-scenes support team in the office, or my Flight Crew (i.e., mentor, driving instructor, on-site coordinators, etc.) who I interact with more often, this support system has been encouraging, kind, positive, empathetic, patient and so uplifting. I am constantly in my head, doubting myself, and battling anxiety and depression daily.

Every single person in my support system has been instrumental in lifting me, encouraging me, reaffirming me, instilling confidence in me, and helping me fight my battles and accomplish my goals throughout my time here.

I think one of the most important components of this support system is the patience everyone has had with me. In taking the time to understand where I’m coming from and the obstacles I face, acknowledging the significance of myself approaching each task and goal with baby steps, and reaffirming that I AM capable and that it is okay to progress at the pace that is best for me; it doesn’t matter that my pace may be a bit slower than others.

That component is huge because it has essentially prevented me from reverting back to an unhealthy mentality that would ultimately fuel my anxiety and depression and make my time here much more difficult.

TLF has created an environment where I feel comfortable enough to grow and push myself in, and the result has been surprising, especially for me. I would have thought it impossible to have come this far just a couple of months ago. I have this support system and TLF to thank.

-Melissa

We are overwhelmed by the amazing support from volunteers, donors, and community partners who have been a part of our TLF journey. For fifteen incredible years we’ve seen countless young women and men take on brave new paths to healing and growth – thank you for cheering us on every step of the way! Your unwavering faith in these courageous leaders is so deeply appreciated—they wouldn’t be where they are today without your love.

WHEN MENTORING DOESN’T GO ACCORDING TO PLAN

Kathy has been mentoring with Teen Leadership Foundation for the last few years. Kathy first met TLF at Teen Leadership Camp in 2015. She left that experience excited and ready to mentor her camper.

Unfortunately, her caregivers were not open to mentorship—as a mentor and an individual, Kathy learned that is not a reflection of her, but rather the complication that comes with foster care, foster youth, and all involved.

Kathy stuck with TLF, though, and we introduced her to Joy that November. Right off the bat, Kathy noticed the hygiene challenges of her mentee—a common issue with former group home residences. She began delicate conversations around self-care, empowering her mentee to focus on what makes her feel beautiful versus her insecurities and fears. They began to research fun at-home facials and focused on building Joy’s friendship circles.

 

It was tough at first, for Kathy to initiate such sensitive topics, of course; but Kathy’s courage has produced a sincere and vulnerable connection with her mentee.

Recently she said, “I just know the Lord orchestrated this journey I’m on. From TLF…to having my camper’s caretaker not allow a mentor, to me saying, ‘forget it…’ to your emails telling me not to give up, but to consider another child, to meeting ‘J’. I am really enjoying my time with my mentee, and I hope I’ve been a good mentor to her. The Lord has blessed me by putting her in my life.

Kathy is now one of our loudest voices at her church in support of mentorship.

 

Mentoring changes lives-both theirs and yours! If you would like to consider partnering with us as a mentor, please apply here: 

TLF

THE LENS OF ABUNDANCE

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 as an alumnus of the Launch Pad and am truly grateful.

There was a time in my life when I believed myself to be a “charity case”. The only reason I could see anyone helping me out during my life was to satisfy their own need. 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 interpret my life.

I decided 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. It was then I decided I would allow Love to win. Each person that said yes to providing 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 result is that I am a healthy college graduate living independently, and I hope to be a foster parent someday.

-Angie

Love in Action

Christmas, my child, is love in action. – Dale Evans

There’s nothing more gratifying during the holiday season than making other people happy. We do this by giving presents, helping however we can, or just bringing smiles to folks’ faces. But for young adults who were formerly in foster care, holidays are not always as magical.

In fact, the season can be downright difficult. The pressure to provide basic necessities, let alone extras like presents and special meals, can be overwhelming.

The holidays can be some of the hardest times for our residents. Most do not have set traditions or good memories surrounding this time of year like you and me.

They most likely have not experienced gathering around the table and eating a meal as a family while cherishing the Holiday time.

When a small group steps up and provides a meal for our residents we can create a space for them to come to the table just as they are and enjoy the Holiday. It is a time to create new memories and even traditions that they can learn to pass on. They can spend time in community and experience family with one another.

It is a joy to see the residents interact and enjoy the food, but even more so to see them develop relationships with those who take the time to serve. These acts of kindness make such an impact on their lives.

The holiday season is a great time to reflect on what we are thankful for and give back to those less fortunate. One way you can do this is by adopting a home and providing them with gifts and necessities during the holidays.

With Thanksgiving and Christmas coming up, you could assist us with making dinner, buying presents or gift cards, get pumpkins and decorations- the options are endless!

So, this holiday season we ask that you consider how you can bring joy to our residents. Whether it is by providing a meal, volunteering your time, or donating needed items…you can make a difference. Bring the magic of Christmas to those who need it most.

If you are interested in adopting a home or would like more information, please contact us at info@teenleadershipfoundation.org. Thank you for your support!

Picture This:

The secret to getting ahead is getting started.
-Mark Twain

Taking the first step is often the hardest part of any journey. At TLF, we know that helping at risk youth with foundational steps is crucial to their future success. The Network  courses are designed to give them the preventative resources they need to make a successful transition into adulthood.

The Network is an employment readiness program that will help participants learn how to navigate conflict in the workplace, build strong communication skills, and take ownership of their professional development.

Picture this:

Louis
Louis is enrolled in TLF’s new employment readiness initiative. Since exiting foster care, he has had difficulty landing a job. However, with the guidance of a group mentor through The Network, Louis feels empowered to make changes that will improve his future prospects. These changes include being more disciplined on social media channels and setting boundaries while also being encouraging and upbeat. Louis completes The Network’s “employment readiness program” and is then connected with an internship in his desired career path, which leads to full-time employment.

Anna
Anna, who is set to graduate high school in a few months, seeks to gain an edge in the job market by becoming more confident in her interview skills. She knows that being better prepared will help her feel more confident when speaking with potential employers.

Anna completes TLF’s employment readiness program.  Through the program, she has the opportunity to practice describing her skills clearly and identifying areas of growth. She is able to identify specific examples from her life that illustrate how these skills will be beneficial in a work setting. Through networking in the program, Anna is introduced to a hiring manager, and she is ecstatic to use the skills she learned in a real-life setting to move towards a career.

Jessica
Jessica is experiencing some communication difficulties with a few colleagues at her new job. She wants to learn how to better handle this type of conflict in the workplace so that she can continue supporting herself financially. Her friend Louis tells her about TLF’s new employment readiness program, The Network, and says that it helped him work through some similar issues.

Jessica is committed to understanding the 7 C’s of communication, ensuring that her messages are: clear, concise, concrete, correct, coherent, complete, and courteous. She is pleasantly surprised by how frequently talking through the 7 C’s of communication in conversation enhances her relationship with coworkers. After several weeks of putting the 7 C’s into practice, Jessica is able to effectively resolve the communication difficulties she was experiencing at work.

The Network is a great opportunity for at risk youth to learn the skills they need to be successful in the workforce. Join us as we expand!

 

Filling the Gap: Loads of Love

“It is an absolute human certainty that no one can know his own beauty or perceive a sense of his own worth until it has been reflected back to him in the mirror of another loving, caring human being.”
― John Joseph Powell

When foster youths struggle to survive, personal hygiene is often not a priority. Many of these young people lack access to regular showers, clean clothes, or even a toothbrush.

Without access to these basic necessities, foster youths are at a disadvantage when competing for jobs or attending school. They may be embarrassed and ashamed of their appearance, which can lead to low self-esteem.

Many residents come to The Launch Pad with only the bare necessities in terms of daily hygiene products. When working under very tight financial constraints they might not think about hygiene items when they go shopping at the store.

Loads of Love steps in to fill this gap. We load a basket with hygiene products and place it in each resident’s room when they move into The Launch Pad so that they feel loved and taken care of. Often, this means providing shampoo, conditioner, bath soaps, towels, and other washing materials. This also opens the door for teaching our residents about basic hygiene habits – skills that many of them lack when they first move to The Launch Pad.

Maintaining good personal hygiene helps to develop positive self-esteem.  It also sends the message to potential employers that you are presentable and capable of taking care of yourself. For many of our residents, this is the first time they have had access to regular showers, clean clothes, and other basic hygiene products.

The Launch Pad is committed to providing a safe and nurturing environment for all of our residents. We also provide laundry detergent, fabric softener, and other related items so that they can do their own laundry. This not only helps to keep them clean but also teaches them an important life skill.

Thanks to the wonderful donations from Loads of Love, we are also able to keep a supply of these goods in our donation closets for our residents’ use and on a broader scale, to send out to foster youth in need.

So, grab your small groups, family, etc and bring on over some loads of love!

Email kaitlin@teenleadershipfoundation.org now to arrange drop off.

It Starts With a Job

For former foster youth, getting a job is a big deal.

For Emily, it is the first step in a long journey towards sustainability as she navigates school, childcare, obtain’s a driver’s license and much more.

Finding and keeping a job is a common challenge for former foster youth. In fact, only 50% of young adults who have aged out of the foster care system are employed, according to a study by the National Youth in Transition Database.

There are many reasons why employment rates are so low among former foster youth. One reason is that they often lack a strong support system to help them with the transition to adulthood.
Former foster youth also face many challenges that other young adults do not, such as trauma, mental health issues, and instability. These factors can make it difficult for them to maintain consistent employment.

AT TLF, we want to celebrate these first entry-level employment jobs.

After we linked Emily with 211, she was able to finish the curriculum from them in order to receive their requirements for employment. She is in her first week of training and thoroughly enjoying it. This is a work-from-home opportunity.

Emily shared, “I really like the job, it is challenging but interesting because I am able to learn about recourses that can help me in the long run as well”
It is hard to only have about 20 minutes on the phone with someone and have to assist them and then not really know if they were able to get the help they needed, but I think it will help me with obtaining a career in some sort of dispatching. I am not looking into emergency dispatching because this will be great on my resume”

She is hoping this could take her into a career as a 911 operator or working for the county dispersing resources help for people in similar situations as her.

We are excited to see what the future holds for Emily and how she will use her newfound skills and knowledge to help herself and others!

Foster the Future

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world” – Nelson Mandela

When our resident’s join us school has often been put on the backburner.

Shylie came to us in April of this year, at the age of eighteen, and is now enrolled in a High School Diploma program through the Orange County Department of Education with a goal of graduating in 2023. After a two-year absence from school, she is now plugging away. With help from our TLF coaches and mentors, she’s learning how to take notes, study for exams, and actively listen and participate in a classroom setting again.

All of this is going on while she is looking for part-time work, attending weekly therapy, and getting into shape to combat her triggers and learn how to cope with stress to avoid relapse. Shylie’s aim is to go to cosmetology school and eventually work as a hairdresser in a salon.

Another of our residents is Sandy, who is also 18 years old. She has completed her orientation for her High School Diploma program with Orange County Department of Education and is awaiting to receive her class schedule. She stopped attending school when she first got pregnant with her son who is now 2, and then after returning paused again at the peak of COVID.

For many of our resident’s, it’s difficult to stay focused on school and push through obstacles because of past trauma. Our volunteers are critical in providing the safety and support system they need to move forward with confidence.

Sandy is focused on graduating from high school and reuniting with her son while maintaining her sobriety. As for the long run, she’s still figuring out what career to pursue. A big challenge for her has been time management and she is working hard with our team to organize and prioritize what’s important.

We couldn’t do what we do without you, and we’d like to make your giving more personal.

We invite you to be a member of the Leadership Circle, our new monthly donor club. Give a monthly gift of $20 or more and receive a Foster the Future t-shirt (shown below) to wear and share with others the youth you support.

What you do matters!

Join today! Click to donate

 

Be There

This past year I was given a 17-year-old camper to lead for Teen Leadership Camp weekend. We’ll call her Sherrie. Sherrie was a particularly complicated girl. At times she was so mature but could suddenly switch over to reveal the broken heart of a very needy child.

She informed me how much she despises team building activities at camp because she never wants to be touched without her consent. As Sherrie spoke, she opened up about her years of sexual abuse and how difficult it is for her to accept physical contact from others.

Sherrie told me she considered herself to be a Christian, but she didn’t believe God existed. I told her it wasn’t possible to have it both ways…that being a Christian required faith in God. Then she explained that she didn’t believe He existed because He never answered her when she called for help during those years of abuse. I momentarily wondered if I should have somehow better prepared myself to answer this deep theological conundrum. You see, before camp, I found myself worrying I wasn’t spiritually “fit” or “adequate” enough to lead these teens.

I took a breath and told Sherrie that I don’t understand why God doesn’t always rescue us when we ask, but I did know that He had a plan to make something beautiful out of her life if she would let Him. Sherrie became extremely angry at that moment and began to shut me out. I told her I would be praying that God would reveal Himself to her and that she would experience the great peace He has to offer. She responded, “Whatever floats your boat,” and walked away.

Our next activity was chapel. I found Sherrie sitting alone so I sat by her, making sure to give her plenty of space. As chapel went on, she slid a little closer and a closer to me until she was right next to me. Then she held my hand. Then she leaned. Then her head was on my shoulder. Finally, her other hand found its way into the front pocket of my sweatshirt where she clutched tighter and tighter onto the fabric to the point where I’m certain her knuckles were white. I wrapped my arms around her in a big bear hug, rocked her, and told her I loved her.

Sherrie and I stayed in the chapel, and I never let go. I hugged and cried. That was my job. That’s what God put me there for at that very moment. I told her I was so sorry for all the pain she had gone through. She never pulled away once. It reminded me of holding my own girls when they were toddlers.

Later after all the campers had gone home, one of the other counselors told me that Sherrie had shared with her about our time in the chapel where we had held each other so tightly. Sherrie told her that it had meant more to her than I would ever know because she’s never felt that safe around someone, someone who could hold her, listen to her, and love her in her most honest and vulnerable state.

That truly was my job that weekend. Not to be a spiritual encyclopedia, but to be the hands and feet of Christ. To love with Christ’s love. To be available.

We’d like to extend our heartfelt thanks for your support and partnership with TLF, which has made events like this possible. It’s national foster care month, and we want to thank you for supporting us.