Gaining a Teen Mom’s Trust

Teen Leadership Foundation was a light for me when a Church leader mentioned the work they were doing with foster teens and those who have emancipated out of the system. Immediately, I was moved by the work they were doing and felt heavy hearted like I needed to reach out.

God woke me out of my routine and reminded me of how much He’s brought me through in my own life. I understood what it was like to be alone as a single mom and to feel unloved. My hardships and tears made me into a person who could relate to people in difficult situations.

So, I followed my hunch and signed up for training with TLF in hopes of becoming a mentor. The training was eye opening to say the least. What struck me most was hearing that some youth pull away from you when they are afraid to lose you. This truth broke my heart and meant I would need to love unconditionally. I was to go all in and not turn back. I believed I could do that, so I signed up.

The day came when I got to meet Anna. At first it was awkward. I got that skeptical, mistrusting up and down glance and thought, yikes, this might be harder than I thought. Who was I any ways? But little by little, and visit after visit, she let me into her world. It was such a privilege she trusted me enough to share her struggles and woes. She also was a single mom, so I knew God placed me with the right person.

Anna became so easy to love. I saw through to her big heart so hurt by past memories. Any doubts I may have had of myself to be enough, to impact and help someone else in this way, soon passed away. Her trusting spirit and determination was a gift for me. And her love for her son gave me such joy to witness.

Challenges come and go like seasons, and she continues to blossom. It’s beautiful I get to be a part of such an amazing young woman’s life and her precious son. She’s helped me to see when I step out in faith into the unknown, get my feet wet, and then my whole body, true life begins.

Miracles come when you walk out of your comfort zone. Anne has given me a new stride and an everlasting gift that will outrun and outlive this life. She’s taught me to trust where God is leading me and to see His wonder as He makes us whole again each time we step out.

May is national foster care month. Please consider the impact mentoring made on my life and Anna’s and consider partnering with TLF.

 

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.

Connection

The Power of Connection

The opposite of addiction is not sobriety, but human connection. – Johann Hari

Erika has been at The Launch Pad for almost a year now, and on April 17th we were able to celebrate her two years of sobriety. It hasn’t been an easy road for her, but she was thrilled to be able to rejoice in this huge victory.

This has been something we’ve been able to guide her through as she’s learned how to identify and eliminate triggers, ask for assistance, and maintain a stable community that will assist her stay clean. Erika is just one of our many success stories, and we are so proud of her for everything she has accomplished. We know that it takes a lot of hard work and dedication to stay sober, but Erika has proved that it is possible.

Stable housing has been a crucial component, since it has allowed her to have a secure location to return to when she is stressed or needs to take a breath. She has been required to face up to her responsibilities and accept responsibility at The Launch Pad. She is presently attending Paul Mitchell’s cosmetology program and has just over six months until she graduates. She is energized and driven to obtain her license and begin a career in a salon.

The Launch Pad’s approach with our resident’s is to help them overcome the trauma of their prior wounds, as well as any residual effects, and move forward with healing and quantifiable objectives. Watching our former foster youth thrive is a tremendous gift. We have a team of very dedicated, hardworking and compassionate volunteers who are committed to our residents’ success.

The Launch Pad has been a blessing for Erika, as well as for many other residents who were once homeless and hopeless. We invite you to learn more about what we do and consider partnering with us as a mentor.

The First Step

We often get asked “where do you begin?” when a resident joins the Launch Pad.

And the answer is, we begin, after the initial move in, with a series of foundational steps geared towards real life training.

But it all starts with opening a bank account and learning how to budget.

Transitioning to adulthood and independence is challenging for any teenager, but the transition to life outside of foster care may be even more intimidating for teenagers who have spent their entire lives in the system. The knowledge and skills they need cannot be learned on the spot at the last minute as they exit care. In most cases the preparation needed for the challenges that come are not taught prior to leaving foster care. And this void of life skills training is where we like to start.

Underprivileged youth often pay in money orders and certified checks. At the Launch Pad it is a value to open a bank account and begin to gain access to the technology world as a start to a long process of learning the necessary life skills needed for long term sustainability.

Yessenia, a new resident at the Launch Pad, didn’t even know where to begin because she left foster care without her original birth certificate or social security card. Left to her own devices, she would certainly have faced daunting challenges.

We have come alongside her to help her apply for and obtain the necessary identification to begin the process.

This is why the Launch Pad housing is so essential for young people who have just left foster care, as it allows us to walk beside and assist them in acquiring the knowledge and abilities they require to live as independent adults.

We’re glad to be able to enter into this gap with foster youths such as Yessenia and assist them in getting the support they need to succeed.

Jordon's story

Jordyn’s Story

As I sit with the most amazing little boy in my lap, with the comfort and privilege to know I am secure in all ways, I am content. This security is all the more complete because my son, the most important thing in my life, is safe and thriving.

It fills me with the utmost honor and gratitude to dwell upon the reflections of my life.

Unfortunately, the beginning of my journey was predominately unpleasant. This logic might be mysterious to some, I mean “why would you be so grateful for something you yourself define as ‘unpleasant’” However, it’s not the constant barrage of hardships I’m honored and grateful for, it’s the beauty and rescue that stand out.

It’s the reality that with the unconditional love, guidance, and support of a few angels along the way, I managed to create a beautiful and vivid life with a stable and healthy family.

Let’s take a gaze through the looking glass to an eighteen-year-old me.

At eighteen, I was newly “graduated” from minor foster care. How I got there in the first place is convoluted and graphic, to say the least.

On top of absent parents, neglect and trauma, I found myself on my own and fighting to survive. Kids don’t end up in foster care thousands of miles from where they’re originally from. You can fill in the blanks as you’d like.

I was bouncing from friends’ couches, motels, and rented rooms, trying my best to be successful in college, hold down a job, and find healing from the deep wounding of my childhood and trauma.

By God’s grace, I was put in contact with the gems of humanity that brought me to TLF. In many ways, they saved my life.

Teen Leadership Foundation provided me with stability for the very first time in my life. They gave me a safe home and unfettered access to any and all resources someone in my position could need to recover and succeed. They introduced me to the concept and framework for what “community” looks like and why a good life necessitates its presence.

Thanks in very large part to TLF, I’ve been able to travel to multiple countries, contribute to greater humanity, graduate from a university, secure a wonderful job in the nonprofit sector, get married and have the most gorgeous baby boy.

The women I interacted with at TLF modeled to me what I imagined a good mother would be like. I now get to emulate that love and mutual respect with my own child, finally breaking cycles, and changing the world in my own little way and corner of the world.

-Jordyn

The Impact of Mentoring | Teen Leadership Foundation

The transition to independent living can be challenging, especially for teens who have left foster care—often at the age of 18 with little support and few skills. By the age of 26, 36% of those who ‘aged out’ of foster care have experienced homelessness.
Being male, having run away while in foster care, having been physically or sexually assaulted, experiencing foster-care instability, or displaying signs of mental health difficulties are all examples of risk factors that can lead to homelessness. Access to transitional housing programs for adolescents, assisting youth build financial stability before they leave foster care, and mentorship and support to develop the skills to live independently all aided in preventing homelessness.

We believe prevention is critical. AT TLF, our mission is to improve the lives of at-risk foster teens through our leadership equipping programs. We provide assistance and direction for teens who are on the verge of being “aged out” of the foster care system. Our initiatives give teens avenues into adulthood with a safety net surrounding them.

Getting kids ready for life after high school is essential to our goal of preparing them for what comes next, including adulthood. We want them to be able to take off when they become independent, not flounder back into a life of instability and more trauma.

At the core of Teen Leadership Foundation is a mentoring program that links adult volunteers with foster teens. The aim of the program is to assist these youth in preparing for adulthood by guiding them to finish high school, obtain driver’s licenses, learn parenting skills and budgeting, apply to college, and move them towards vocational training and finding jobs.

A mentor may be the first caring adult in the youth’s life who has shown an interest in him or her. These youth desperately need a sense of belonging. Our mentors have a significant influence on our mentees. They form meaningful relationships, which has a long-lasting impact on kids’ lives.

While the beautiful simplicity of a mentor relationship is often the solution, the absence of a mentor can be detrimental. When we do not intervene early on with loving assistance, the problem becomes more difficult to address and more costly to handle. We can help foster youth get back on track in a timely manner if we can ensure that they constantly receive care and support during a brief window of time.

But we can’t do this without your help. There is a list of both male and female teens waiting to be matched! Many of the youths we serve have been bounced from home to home, and they don’t feel secure or supported. They desperately need a mentor who can be a consistent source of support and encouragement.

If you would like to be part of the solution, please apply at https://teenleadershipfoundation.app.neoncrm.com/np/clients/teenleadershipfoundation/survey.jsp?surveyId=4&

A Priceless Gift

A few times in life, you receive the perfect gift that transcends both the giver and receiver. This Christmas one of our mentors and residents experienced such a life changing moment.

One of our mentor’s gave our Launch Pad resident a weighted blanket as a present, and the results were far beyond what she expected.

Like most of the foster youth we work with, life hadn’t been easy for this resident and her previous trauma kept her from sleeping at night. Even when she finally had a secure place to rest her head, she still struggled with anxiety and insomnia, which left her exhausted and never fully rested.

The weighted blanket changed all this. Finally, she is able to obtain a decent night’s sleep. This has an enormous influence on all of her activities. She is now able to work more hours at school during the winter break and is exercising regularly.

So what is a Weighted Blanket?

A weighted blanket is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a blanket with weight built into it to make it feel heavier than normal items.

Weighted blankets are typically anywhere from 3-25 pounds and can be very helpful for those who may have trouble sleeping or need extra support as far as anxiety goes .

What makes weighted blankets so effective is the deep pressure stimulation (DPS). This form of touch therapy works by applying even, slow and gentle pressure to one’s body.

Weighted blankets offer a combination of something as simple as touch with the added benefit of deep pressure, which can be very helpful for those who may have trouble sleeping or need extra support as far as anxiety goes

Weighted blankets are often used as a therapeutic tool for teens with anxiety, ADHD, Asperger’s Syndrome, PTSD, or autism. Wrapping one around yourself at bedtime can help ease anxious thoughts and promote healthy sleep patterns.

Foster youth who struggle with anxiety and insomnia benefit most from weighted blankets because it simulates the feeling of being hugged, which can improve sleep in some cases.

But why does it work? The tactile stimulation provided by the blanket gives the brain enough sensory information to tell the body that everything is okay. But it doesn’t just stop there, the pressure also induces serotonin production which helps lift moods and induce better sleep!

However, all of these benefits pale in comparison to how much our resident loves her gift. We are so grateful for both the mentor’s thoughtfulness and this gift that keeps on giving.

Trees

Decorating Trees

We continue our gratitude to the men’s ministry at Mariners Church- #MenofMariners, for their annual Christmas tree distribution to our residents at the Launch Pad. Their unselfish gift of service is an inspiration to us all. Residents of our Launch Pad are always grateful for the fresh trees to delight over and decorate with their children.

They add a real sense of Christmas to our homes. The beautiful trees are also a visual reminder that we are not alone, that people do care about us. We are grateful to the Men of Mariners for their thoughtfulness and kindness.

Last Saturday, as the trees were distributed and brought into one of our residences, three-year-old Bella stood with a smile on her face and said “thank you!” Later, while we were unpacking the ornaments, Jasmine, our resident and young mother, informed us with tears in her eyes that she had never been able to decorate a tree with her daughter.

This time of year, is hard for foster youth being separated from family and walking through pain alone. But this Christmas Eve, they have a tree of their own to decorate surrounded by people who care about them.

We once again thank the Men of Mariners and all those community members that support our foster youth in need. When a child is hurting, it’s never too late to let them know they are loved.

– The Launch Pad staff

Thankful

Thankful Hearts

On Monday, November 22nd, a few members of Grace Fellowship Church cooked and delivered a complete Thanksgiving dinner to our residents at the Launch Pad. The group went above and beyond by not only preparing all the dishes for a full Thanksgiving celebration but also providing decorations and table settings to make the residents’ turkey day feel extra special. We are deeply appreciative of their generous hearts and desire to serve the at-risk youth we walk alongside.

This dinner was especially meaningful for our residents since they don’t often have the opportunity to spend Thanksgiving with their families. As a result, having supper together provided them the pleasure of sharing a meal and breaking bread with the TLF Launch Pad volunteers and staff.

This activity also assisted them in stepping out of their comfort zones and participating in the community. Our kids frequently eat fast food because it’s quick and inexpensive, but this experience allowed them to slow down and enjoy a delicious holiday meal in a caring family-type environment.

The house was also a gathering place to learn social skills and develop connections with others outside their circle of friends, as well as an opportunity to practice those abilities. It created a safe and secure haven for our residents to enjoy leisure time away from work, school, and other life difficulties they might be facing.

We did a creative art activity with the residents called the “Gratitude Tree.” Each resident created a tree and placed leaves on it, with things they are grateful for. It was great to hear from each resident about what they are thankful for, as well as what is most important to them. This game allowed the residents to form stronger relationships and interact with one another.

We are thankful for the friendships we have forged with Grace Fellowship Church and look forward to continuing to serve alongside them in future outreach deeper opportunities.

Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. -Hebrews 13:16

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.