Have you ever thought about children in foster care?
Have you ever wondered what happens to those kids who don’t reunite with their families or get adopted?
If I am being honest, if this weren’t my own personal story, I am not sure I would give foster children a thought, but I’ve never been allowed to escape those questions because parts of my story were written while in foster care. I spent 18 years of my life in “out of home” placement, one of many types of foster care, with never a hope of being adopted and no luck of being reunited with a developmentally delayed mother, the other family members I knew at that time.
I aged out of the system. And prior to my 21st birthday, ever experienced a birthday party.
I recently had the opportunity to be a guest at an event called “Celebrate 18!” Celebrate 18! Is a city wide birthday party honoring girls turning 18 and aging out of the foster care system.
When I was invited I immediately agreed knowing how special I would felt had someone made a point to celebrate my entry into adulthood. Natalie Ellington, Executive Director of Eileen and Callie’s Place came up with the idea to throw a birthday party for girls aging out of the foster care system so they could get a taste of what it felt like to be celebrated on the cusp of such a pivotal moment in their life.
The day was full of vendors providing hair and makeup, beautiful clothing, personal items, accessories, a beautiful dinner and real life actual birthday bags and gifts.
My favorite part of the event, and likely the most impactful, was a panel of women who shared their experience and victory over the foster care system - providing a roadmap to the girls who are about to age out of the system. I participated in that panel and got a chance to share my story, but I found myself weeping as I heard the girls heard theres.
I never really understood why God chose the specific circumstances of my life for me, but I have always felt it wasn’t for me alone. That was affirmed as another panelist shared her story of meeting me fresh out of my undergrad degree while she was just starting her college career.
She spoke about how she had met me at the Boys and Girls Club, my first job out of college, and her little sister was in care. They had been separated but she knew she could find her at the club. When she came to visit her one day and met me, a young Program Manager at the time, she said she knew her sister was in good hands because she would be in contact with me every day. A few years later, I would see the girl walking down the street and I would pull over my car and connect with her - she would update me on her life and we would go our separate ways. Years after that, she would contact me to do her senior photos as he graduated from college and then fast forward a few years again, and she was at my house taking new pics for a pageant and inviting me to participate on the panel. She said that her experience of being in foster care taught her is that “someone is always looking out for her, cheering her along and there to catch her if she fell” and she said she learned that lesson through me. That consistently she knew if she ever saw me she could count on me and that I was the example to her that she would be okay.
I left the event in tears.
I think that is what life is about, right? Showing up, doing our best and leaving a road map for someone else to do the same.
I was honored to participate in this event and was so touched and moved by the work that was done that day.
You can check our the recap video here
You can check our press here
What makes being a part of this event so special is that it will be an annual, with an end goal of connecting young ladies who age out of the system to mentors to support them. Mentorship is imperative and has made the greatest difference in my life, but that is for another blog post! I am so thrilled for the future of this event and look forward to attending next year.
All photos courtesy of Jason Hodge for TJH Media LLC.
With strength, courage and wisdom,