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.

Loads Filled with Love

A Load Filled with Love

It’s funny how simple things can make such a difference.

Sue and her small group put together a basket during our Loads of Love campaign for one of our new residents at the Launch Pad, who moved in at the beginning of September. The basket they dropped off made its way into the hands of our new resident Daysha, an eighteen-year-old young woman transitioning into independence.

Daysha moved in with minimal personal items. When our staff gave her the basket, filled with toiletries and essentials for moving in, she was very appreciative and shared that it meant a lot to her that we would support her in that way.

Daysha has big dreams and we are excited about helping her achieve them. Daysha is pursuing a program for Culinary School, as she desires to become a chef.  She is currently working with our Program Coordinator to find a part-time job, is learning about how to budget, and is studying to take her Drivers’ Permit test.

Daysha has the most difficulty with establishing healthy boundaries with her family and motivating herself to prioritize her own aspirations over family obligations and desires. She is also overcoming her anxiety of not being able to achieve her objectives through therapy.

We are excited for Daysha! We believe she will accomplish all that she sets out to do. Thank you Sue for your thoughtful gift filled with encouragement!

The Launch Pad is a family-based community-based in Orange County, CA that supports young adults ages 18 to 21 who have been emancipated from foster care, those participating in extended foster care, and those at risk of homelessness. We are much more than simply a safeguard for these youngsters; we provide them with a safe and permanent family while working to assist them to realize their unrealized potential and ambitions.

We provide a wide range of services and assistance that picks up where foster care leaves off. We develop a unique “take-off plan” for each young adult to achieve his or her objectives in life. A variety of support and activities, including budget coaches, tutors, employment and education planning, daily living, exercise, and fitness, is available through our local partners.

Would you like to make someone’s day by giving them something special? Want help picking it out? Contact us at 949-899-8100.

A MESSAGE FROM A MENTOR

TLF,
How can I ever thank you for matching me with Terri…
Our first meeting was a bit awkward, Terri was nervous.  It was like a blind date.  During the conversation, we learned she made some collages in a contest at her group home.  I asked her if I could make collages with her on my next visit.  Ironically, I became passionate about making collages years ago.  Terri enthusiastically said, yes.  The next week I brought tons of old magazines given to me by a doctor’s office.  We spent the entire evening tearing pictures from the magazines.  This week we made our first collages.  When I asked what she would like to do next week, she said, “Collages!”
This art project has been an incredible bridge for us.  In just a couple of meetings I have grown to know Terri and love her like I never imagined, over this shared passion.
We now have approval to leave her group home on visits, but we usually go to dinner after spending two to three hours, cutting, gluing, talking about what we see in the pictures and our lives.  We freely share pictures with one another and swap ideas.  I know it is a welcomed respite for her, free of stress and concern from her circumstances.
Terri is an incredibly smart, capable young woman.  God has truly blessed our friendship.

A LETTER FROM LISA…

Hi all,

Because I know how much you love our Launch Pad residents, I wanted to tell you about an inspiring interaction I had last week.

I touched base with Lizzie, who will earn her A.A. in Early Childhood Development in May from Orange Coast College.  It’s something she says she never would have imagined for herself when she joined the Launch Pad community.  Growing up, Lizzie bounced between foster care and her grandparents’ home. Betrayed by family relationships, she set out on her own, completing her last year in high school while essentially squatting at a foreclosed home and making do with handouts from friends.

“I thought this was just going to be another program, but I was wrong,” Lizzie told me about her Launch Pad experience. “The program was more than a community, they became my family. Without their encouragement, I would not have found the strength to accomplish many of the things I have.”

Lizzie’s volunteer “Flight Crew” – which has grown to include her mentor, budget coach, life group leader, school counselor, and former employer  – has been committed to her success. With their support, Lizzie enrolled at OCC, taking the bus to classes as well as to her first part-time job (located in the opposite direction from home and school). She learned to drive with the help of yet another volunteer, and then saved up to buy a car. Most recently, she’s been working OCC’s on-campus child care center, doing what she loves most. The best part is that Lizzie was baptized by her life group leader a few years back.

“Due to their persistence to help and get to know me, I was able to believe that I deserve better. I also have the right to feel safe and happy,” Lizzie said. “I thought I only needed a roof over my head to feel safe, but … they showed me that in order to feel safe I had to start trusting myself again, and they gave me the strength to do so.”

We’ll certainly be celebrating Lizzie at her graduation in June, though she’s not stopping there – with a goal of a bachelor’s degree, Lizzie will start at Cal State Fullerton in August.

It’s through the continued support of each of you and your Church community that Lizzie’s life, one of many at The Launch Pad, trajectory has been changed dramatically. We are grateful for our continued partnership and look forward to future celebrations.

Continue to be the Church in Action,

Lisa

WHEN MENTORING DOESN’T GO ACCORDING TO PLAN

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

Unfortunately, her camper’s caregivers were not open to mentorship—as a mentor and person, Kathy had to learn 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 our loudest voices at her church in support of mentorship.

Interested in learning more about mentoring? Come to our next training and find out how you can change a local former foster youth’s life!

COFFEE AND TUTORING

We recently introduced a new mentor and mentee at Starbucks. The mentee, we will call her Sarah, shared how her and her brother were put in foster care in elementary school. Not more than a year later they were adopted together by couple in Orange. Trusting family-relationships grew quick and easily but there has always been an internal struggle of confusion for Sarah and her brother.  They went from having nothing to having everything, overnight. And, although that might sound like a dream, they lived on edge with worry that everything they have been given could be taken from them. 

In high school Sarah’s brother decided to push the envelope as far as he could.  He became a drug user and dealer.  His family attachments fell apart as did his grades and his opportunities for a college scholarship. Sarah was hurt and mad about her brother’s decisions and wasn’t sure how to relate to her adoptive parents anymore; she felt torn between bio-bonds with her brother and what she knew was right. She became very introverted, distant and numb.  Her grades plummeted as she tried to reconcile all the confusion in her mind and heart. During the turmoil, she began seeing her therapist, and found some clarity and peace in how to organize her emotions.  

Now she is trying to rebound from the months and months of depression and despair. Sarah asked for help studying, specifically English and Economics. She wants to go to college and she knows those two grades are important.

Her new mentor, Lori, happened to excel in English throughout college. Without our help at all, they created their study plan and decided on their next meet up date.

We followed up with Lori a week later and heard about a wonderful study session.  Sarah brought all her deadlines with her and the assignments she was working on.  They completed a few together and Sarah made sure to lock in their next study date.  Lori feels so validated, appreciated and honored to have space to love Sarah.  Sarah’s therapist sent us an email talking about how excited she is to have a mentor…someone who is there for her; unpaid, with no obligations outside of her own heart. She is not an extension of the court or her parents. She is just well-intentioned and desperate to see Sarah succeed, and this is going to change her life forever. 

For more information on how you can become a mentor and change a former foster youth’s life, check out the calendar for our next mentor training. 

A CAMPER’S TESTIMONY: WHAT CAN HAPPEN AFTER FIVE YEARS AT TLC

Each summer from 13-17 I attended teen leadership camp (TLC) – a 3 day summer camp put on by Teen Leadership Foundation.

Camp is a place where I could just let go and be myself. It was a place where I felt like, wow… I can fit in and be myself here. Outside of camp, I remember having to be someone I wasn’t, trying my best to fit in… at camp, there was no trying, I was just me, I was happy.

Looking back now, and looking at where I am today, I can honestly say I have no clue where I would be [without Teen Leadership Foundation]. TLF was a blessing because I got to meet two of the…goofiest and God loving counselors I know. They became my mentors in life, and because of this, I wouldn’t know where I would be now. If there was no camp, then I would have never met my life long mentors and friends.

They genuinely cared about me. Growing up, I always felt that people in my life were just forced to being there, and if they weren’t they would leave me sooner or later.

There [are] so many things that John and Rosalind [have] done for me, things that I don’t think even they realize. But honestly I think the biggest thing for me was that they genuinely cared. They genuinely cared about me. Growing up, I always felt that people in my life were just forced to being there, and if they weren’t they would leave me sooner or later. My foster mom loved me, and I knew she did, but she was getting paid to take care of me and as a kid I didn’t know if she’d be there if the money wasn’t.

I’ve had other people come in my life and a couple months later, I never hear from them again. With John and Rosalind, they [pursued me and my siblings], and kept wanting to hang out, kept tabs on our grades, kept tabs on whether or not we were keeping out of trouble…Now I’m 20 years old…and now getting ready to deploy after boot camp—[they] still make sure I’m not getting in trouble, keep giving me tips on life, and keep asking me for time to spend with them when I am on leave. For them I will always make time to spend with them because they always found time to spend with me.

 

HOW THE LAUNCH PAD HELPED PREPARE MERVEILLE

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.

THE FAITH JOURNEY FOR FOSTER YOUTH

Our residents experience faith and spirituality on an individual basis. It is a deeply personal, ever-growing part of their experience and journey towards independence. We do not force anything upon them, but invite them to investigate, to learn, and be open to something bigger than themselves, and a hope that has proved transformational powers in various peoples’ lives.

There is a resident who was sure she did not want much to do with God. In her eyes, God seemed mean and controlling—someone she had no interest in believing in. Her own painful past is enough to impact this side of belief—why would she believe in a good God if her parents have never treated her well or wanted her? How could she trust in a higher power when all the authorities placed over her have treated her as a project, been paid to care for her basic needs, or watched her struggle her way through life? Something has shifted since she moved to The Launch Pad. There have been many instances that have happened in her life in the past six months that make her think and question her beliefs, good things…She has seen how things have fallen into place over and over again and cannot make sense of it outside of something bigger than herself, working on her behalf.

ASK and it will be given to you; SEEK and you will find; KNOCK and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and the one who knocks will be opened.” Matthew 7:7-12 

TLF SUMMER UPDATE

The Launch Pad: 

For various reasons, one of the Launch Pad residents was having a hard time connecting with her new roommates. She was questioning whether or not she could relate to any of them because she felt like they were further along in their ability to be independent than she was. 

Overtime, she has connected with her roommates and learned they have more in common than she thought. They have shown her support and care when situations arose, and showed her a very different community and care than she had ever experienced by her peers in group homes she was placed in before joining the Launch Pad. 

This was a huge victory. This resident is now realizing that she is more than capable of moving forward and achieving goals she thought might not have been for her.

For more information on the Launch Pad program, click here. 

Mentoring: 

A mentor recently began encouraging her mentee to write things that she is grateful for in a journal. The mentor got her a journal just for this purpose, and wants her to learn to focus on the positives in life, rather than just the negatives. For youths with various traumas and stories, it can be difficult to walk through life and see the beautiful things that most people take advantage of. With triggers and memories, past hurts and pains, it’s easy to be caught up in the memories of negative experiences. This is a great way to teach anyone— foster youth, teenagers, and adults alike—that gratitude can change perspective and experience. 

For more information on becoming a TLF mentor, click here.

The Network: 

Anxiety and trauma are normal occurrences for foster youth. One teen recently shared her experience as being so debilitating that she can’t work, go to school, or make friends. She was facing large and real fears.

In situations like this, The Network is a game-changer. This youth was able to do practice interviews with a local hiring professional. She was able to practice her ability to converse and relate to someone in a position of professional authority, and receive positive feedback. In her own words, I didn’t believe it, but I was told I did an amazing job at my mock interview. The woman who held the interview said she’d hire me! Which is craaaazzzy to me!”

“I didn’t believe it, but I was told I did an amazing job at my mock interview. The woman who held the interview said she’d hire me! Which is craaaazzzy to me!”

The Network connects youth with employment skills. Teens transitioning though foster care are now able able to walk into a real interview with confidence and strengths.

For more information on the Network, click here.