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. 

Beauty Day

A few weeks ago we decided to officially inaugurate Beauty Day at the Launch Pad. We decided that on this day, an otherwise ordinary day, we were going to honor our residents with a fun afternoon of pampering and self-care simply because.

Some of our incredible volunteers came and gave haircuts, facials, and manicures while others cooked a home cooked meal.

Marlene, one of our residents, experienced a particularly powerful moment when she decided to cut her hair.

“Ever since I was a little girl my hair has always served as my security blanket. For many years, I have carried anxiety. My hair defined me… but today, I decided it was time for a change. No longer was I going to be tied down. My real power rests in my mind and heart, not just on top of my head. So I literally decided to let it go. At first, it was difficult to look past it but I did it. And that to me, was a special moment that I continue to replay over and over again. I don’t regret it. In fact, I’ve decided to donate my hair as long as it continues to grow.”

These are the kinds of stories we live for at The Launch Pad. We value our family and all of our volunteers that contribute to the work that we do. We’d like to thank everyone who made Beauty Day happen. We couldn’t have done it without you!

If you’d like to get involved at a future Launch Pad event, please click here.

Reunited And It Feels So Good

It’s been nearly a year since Lori joined us. Before she showed up, she had lost two of her oldest children to foster care due to domestic violence in her home. She had come to The Launch Pad near the end of her rope, carrying only her 10-month old and the determination to win back the rest of her family.

Through months of hard work, resilience, and the support of our team, Lori was able to complete all the necessary life-skill classes she needed to gain back custody.

We are thrilled to report that Lori and her children have officially been reunited. This strong and spunky family is thriving with Lori balancing both a full-time job and online night school. Her parenting skills have grown tremendously thanks to her Launch Pad volunteer parent coach and she’s now working towards her driver’s license and managing her budget.

Help us continue to empower Lori and dozens of families like her. When you support TLF, your contribution creates a groundswell that helps lift an entire generation farther than they ever thought imaginable.

The Art of Healing

This past February, our Launch Pad ladies were treated to a fun and healing Galentines Day event because of our community partners. The crew had a blast creating freestyle healing art which gave each woman the ability to express deep emotions and talk openly about their feelings… a crucial skill rarely practiced before entering our safe haven.

“I never realized painting or drawing could help me understand things about myself and my journey until today,” one resident said. “This Valentine’s Day I’m learning to love me.”

Thanks to you, it’s our privilege to pour into the lives of these incredible woman helping them understand the full breadth of their value, often for the very first time.

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.

The Starfish Story

I see my mentoring experience as a Starfish Story, in reference to the poem by Loren Eiseley about how any effort, no matter how seemingly small, can positively impact others. For the past four years, I have had the honor of mentoring two beautiful young ladies, Jane and Elle. I first met Jane, then Elle, when I was their camp counselor for their respective first years at Teen Leadership Camp.

 

I recently was accepted into the Master of Social Work program at USC, and as I told Jane, “Thank youfor helping meget into the program.” In my application, I wrote about the two of them as my “starfishes,” that they are the reason for my going into social work. I feel I’m not the one who has impacted them, but that their beautiful selves have impacted me.

 

I first learned of the Starfish Story from my TLF mentoring training, and I take it to heart because that’s what social work means to me – that every action no matter how big or small makes a difference. TLF and my mentees have been a big part of my journey to where I am now, and I am very grateful for this opportunity to make a difference through mentoring.

 

 

A High School Graduation Through Adversity

Last May, Launch Pad resident Ali was thrilled to accept her high school diploma, cheered on by other Launch Pad residents, volunteers and staff.  It was a well-deserved milestone, and it’s just the beginning of what she wants to achieve. The path to her success wasn’t easy, but Ali is a determined young woman. Adopted from foster care at the age of 12, her mother announced it was time to move out when Ali turned 18 during her senior year in high school.  Shocked though she was, Ali’s diploma remained her goal. So she kept showing up at school and worked a job after classes, all the while sleeping on friends’ couches and in an abandoned house, her belongings heaped in bags.

When her school counselor learned of the situation, she referred Ali to the Launch Pad. Right away Ali was connected with a team of volunteers – her beloved Flight Crew – who cheered her on while connecting her to services and helping her with new skills. Undaunted that her new home at the Launch Pad was dozens of miles from her high school, Allison got up at 4 a.m. to take the bus to Fullerton, then worked after school, getting home around 11 p.m., again via bus. Wonderfully, when a Launch Pad volunteer heard about Ali’s taxing commute, she insisted on driving her to school to save her some precious time.

With high school behind her, Ali is enrolled at Orange Coast College, has earned her driver permit, and is saving up for a car. She has always wanted to be an English professor, even when she couldn’t imagine how it would be possible. But through the care and support of terrific Launch Pad volunteers, Ali has a safe, supportive place to pursue her dreams. 

TLF values the sense of community our dedicated volunteers create for our Launch Pad residents. And it takes a broad range of volunteers to provide the stability that is so important to the lives of these young women.