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. 

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.

A Story Of A Mentor

Greg has been Juan’s mentor since 2009, and the two have spent hundreds of hours together.  Greg has remained in Juan’s life as he navigated through foster care, providing guidance and consistency. This year Juan turns 18 and will emancipate from the Child Welfare System. Defying the odds against teens leaving the foster care system, Juan is about to graduate from high school and has already been accepted into a four-year college. Juan contributes this to his mentor who has been his role model. But the impact goes both ways, with Greg noting that his relationship with Juan has helped him grow and has made him more compassionate for God’s heart for the disenfranchised. When they were first matched six years ago, Juan asked Greg how long he planned to be around. Greg’s reply was simple: “This is for life. I am not going anywhere.”

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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 VALUABLE LESSON TAUGHT BY A FORMER FOSTER YOUTH

Reese** and Joseph** grew up in an atmosphere of chaos. Starting at a young age, they would often roam the streets after school while their parents were using. Eventually child protective services were called and the boys’ best friend’s mom offered to accept placement of both Reese and Joseph, so they could avoid group homes.
Their foster mom had to teach them all the basics—having someone care was foreign to them. Within the first week of their placement, one of the boys decided to wander after school—this was a normal occurrence for him prior to being removed from his parents; but not for his new foster mom. After school, one brother made it home, but the other one was no where to be found. Their foster mom started freaking out, and called all of her closest friends for help, and texted them a picture of the boy—immediately, everyone jumped in their cars to find him. One of her friends finally recognized him and explained that she knew his foster mom and everyone was looking for him. He jumped right into her car with no hesitation and they headed home.
Over the years, the boys have learned time management, self-care, and hygiene—basics that many take for granted—from their foster mom. Most of all, she taught them the value of relationship and living alongside one another within the context of family.
Both Reese and Joseph have been attending camp for the last 3 years.  This year, Reese is coming on board as a Junior Counselor. During a team activity, the Camp Director asked everyone to think about typical gear needed for camping trips. She said, “pick one piece of camping gear you would grab for camp and explain why that piece is important to you.”
Reese boldly responded, “I would grab the sleeping bag because they are safe, warm and secure…isn’t that what we want for the campers?”
We have so much to learn from former foster youth and current campers. Their observations of the world, and experience in relationships are unique strengths to draw from. The basic principal needs of safety and security in relationship is new and foreign to many former foster youth, but once attained, not taken advantage of.