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.

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. 

SPRING AND SUMMER AT THE LAUNCH PAD

Beautification Day

March 18th we had an annual serve event we call Beautification Day, where volunteers from all different walks, churches, and organizations go to the Launch Pad to repair, paint, garden, organize, and “beautify” the campus for the residents. It was amazing to see over 150 volunteers come together to work hard for a couple of hours and give back to TLF and their community. There were children, teenagers, mothers and fathers, people from all different generations and walks of life, coming together to help however they could. We had a toddler helping paint, teenagers bonding, and 80 year-old men praying for the campus. Everyone had a part to play, and everyone walked away with a new friendship and experience. 

The residents were touched by the amount of people that showed up and loved on their home. One resident said, “It was so amazing to see all of these people come to serve, volunteer their time to make this campus beautiful. It was awesome!” Another said, “I have never seen so many people serve before, the campus looks so GOOD!”

The residents were touched by the amount of people that showed up and loved on their home. One resident said, “It was so amazing to see all of these people come to serve, volunteer their time to make this campus beautiful. It was awesome!” Another said, “I have never seen so many people serve before, the campus looks so GOOD!”

THE GIFT OF BEING KNOWN

Our mentorship program takes an intentional look at both our volunteers and residents to find a fit that works for both parties. We know it takes time to build a trusting relationship with someone—so we take the time to learn about both the volunteer mentor and the mentee to know what needs each have before connecting the two.  The first meeting is merely a time to introduce the mentee to the mentor.

You never know how an introduction is going to go; if the youth is going to be shy or uninterested…but when our team introduced Kim to her mentee (we’ll call her “A”), it was clear from the beginning they were a perfect match. The look on A.’s face was priceless. She was so excited to meet her mentor; you could see the joy. When I asked her what she liked to do for fun, she generously listed a lot of things and you could just see how excited she was to have someone want to spend time just with her. The whole meeting was full of laughter. Kim and A. connected right away and it was apparent.

A teenager’s life has been touched-and all it took was for someone to say, “I want to spend time with you.”

Everyone, no matter where you are from, or what your story is, wants to feel seen and known. We all desire to feel understood and sought after. Our mentors are given the rare opportunity to do just that for a special population of youth in our county that has never felt that way before. To give someone the gift of feeling known is priceless.

Are you interested in making a difference in a foster youth’s life? Check out our calendar for ways you can be involved this year with Teen Leadership Foundation. 

TWO STORIES OF TEEN LEADERSHIP FOUNDATION’S IMPACT


We can’t imagine a better way to share the impact of Teen Leadership Camp than having campers share their own experiences. Here are two stories from recent graduates who have stayed involved in different areas of Teen Leadership Foundation after their season at camp ended: 

There are so many reasons why I love TLF. One of the main reasons is, at the age of 28, I can sit here in the comfort of my own living room and tell you that I have a support network grown through camps, The Knot and the other activities developed for me. When I needed a family, they are always there. I have made lifelong friendships from camp. During my time at camp I learned to trust people. Being in foster care as a teen teaches you to guard yourself; it’s hard to trust people, because we don’t know who will stay. But TLF has always had my back. Those 3 days at camp were a refuge in my teen years. Thank you, TLF.  This is my last year of nursing school, and I am coming to camp as a leader this year.

Those 3 days at camp were a refuge in my teen years. Thank you, TLF.


It would be impossible for me to fully express the appreciation and love I have for the people involved with TLF. What started as a “here goes nothing” 3-day camping trip has become one of the greatest blessings in my life. When I first got involved with TLF, I was a shy, afraid, and angry child who felt like the whole world was against her; but TLF has guided me to the understanding that I don’t have to be paralyzed by my past. I’m 21 years old now, and I can honestly say that TLF has contributed to my wellbeing through their continual support, unconditional love, and the relationships I’ve formed. One of the most beautiful things they showed me was that I’m deserving of love, and that I don’t have to jump through hoops to earn it.

When I first got involved with TLF, I was a shy, afraid, and angry child who felt like the whole world was against her; but TLF has guided me to the understanding that I don’t have to be paralyzed by my past.

HOW ONE WEEKEND CHANGED EVERYTHING

My name is Rosalind and my husband and I have been in love with Teen Leadership Foundation from the moment we learned about its mission.

We originally heard about an opportunity to volunteer at a camp for foster kids through our church and decided to participate for the weekend. How bad can one weekend be? We thought we could do our “serve day” duty and move on with our lives. We didn’t expect to be changed forever. 

My husband and I were paired with two brothers and their sister who all looked older than their stated ages. They looked a little mean and had already isolated themselves in the corner of the game room—my husband and I remember thinking that it would be a long weekend. At first they were timid and did not want to interact much; but as the day went on, it was obvious we were going to have a memorable weekend.

By the second day, they shared their stories with us, stories from being in foster care, their fears and frustrations, and, by the last day, they had broken down almost all their walls. My heart melted, and I saw God’s plan unravel before my very eyes.

We have been their mentors ever since. We have watched them grow from troubled teens to amazing adults—we have been there through their high school graduations, go to college, to becoming working adults; one brother is a team leader in the military, and the other two siblings have recently become great parents who provide unconditional love to their own children.

We just had our annual “Fancy Christmas Dinner” where we use real, porcelain plates and serve-ware, and eat some of their favorite foods—Korean BBQ and Hawaiian Katsu Chicken. The house was full of our kids, their kids, and rings of laughter. 

We thought we could do our “serve day” duty and move on with our lives. We didn’t expect to be changed forever.

God called us to serve with TLF because, though we have volunteered and donated to many causes over the years, we saw the direct affect TLF had on our foster teen community. God has shown us that every child can be saved, and that every child deserves to feel God’s love and kindness.  In my experience, some of these teens were experiencing that love and kindness for the first time at Teen Leadership Camp. 

Many of the teens in the foster care community are highly prone to homelessness, teen pregnancy, drug addiction, the list goes on. But having a stable adult in their life to assist them and mentor them can literally change their path.

We have watched them grow from troubled teens to amazing adults—we have been there through their high school graduations, go to college, to becoming working adults…

We have seen TLF go from a few camps each summer to being an influence to the child welfare system across the nation. We have seen Lisa lead and dream big for God’s kingdom…and 10 years later, Lisa is speaking to pastors and community leaders about the difference we can make in foster and emancipating teens’ lives. Teen Leadership Foundation is providing mentorship, housing, jobs, scholarships, and all sorts of resources to the foster teen community, but what they have provided to thousands of teens in the past 10 years is far more important: God’s love.

TLF has changed our lives. We know that it can change yours.