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. 

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!