Voice and Choice
When you grow up in foster care, you have very little input into when you leave your family, whether you see your family, and where you will live while you are not with your family. Imagine knowing your family is out there---and knowing you belong with them, but not being able to live with them. Children go into foster care through no fault of their own. The adults in their lives have all of the power.
Now fast forward to young adulthood--a time when you still need family, but the system you grew up in says you are "emancipated". In Ohio, we have passed a law that now assists young people who are 18-21 with financial support. They have to be working or in school, but it is a good start. The program is called Bridges to Success.
One thing we have learned from working with young adults who have come out of foster care is that they need to have a VOICE in the process. We believe that allowing them to be the leader of their life is critical to helping them move forward into adulthood.
When we started with creating tables, for the first two years, we did not really have all that many volunteers willing to sit on tables. We would recruit 6-8 volunteers, and then we would match that table with a young adult. There wasn't a lot of voice or choice.
However, now something magical is happening. Because we have a giant binder filled with about 125 people who have filled out volunteer applications, we are able to give young adults a choice about who they have on their table. We meet with young adults and ask them about who they like to spend time with, what they like to spend time doing, and what their goals and dreams are for their life. We give them a chance to VOICE what they would like to see happen with their table and with their life.
Sometimes they cry as they share their hopes and dreams--because they have been alone and hopeless for a long time.
Sometimes their eyes light up and their smiles are wide, as they are given the space to dream big.
Sometimes they are skeptical that this is going to be any different from all the other times people said they were going to help them, but they didn't.
But, after they read through the applications of our volunteers, they consistently say, "I can't believe there are this many good people who want to do this." For some, it is the first time they have dared to hope that there are still good people in the world.
We give them CHOICE about who they sit with around the table. They are empowered that this is their table. This is their team. What we have seen is that excitement is growing and so is hope that life can be different. We are all excited to see what happens around the table as these new tables are formed around the community.
We have 10 new tables that will launch in the next 2-3 months with so many more on the way.
There was some concern initially that there might not be enough young people for all the volunteers coming forward, but yesterday I met non-stop with young people daring to hope for their own team of people. Five young people in one day. Every single one of them showed up. Every single one of them given VOICE and CHOICE. They are looking for support.
It was powerful to hear them, to see them, and to honor them.
It was powerful for them to read about great people, willing to risk love, agreeing to commit to being a support, and to nurture hope.
One other question that I get almost everyday is, "How many tables can you support?"
We don't know. Now is the time to keep moving forward. How can we tell them they have to wait? We do what we can each day to keep moving forward. It's a one day at a time movement.
We do need help. We do need to be able to pay an administrator and at least one other full time person to help us do this work. We will need more employees to continue to do this work. We support the young people and the table members during their time as a table, as they are getting to know each other. We believe that support role is critical.
How can you help us?
You can donate money so we can hire staff and find some office space where we can meet with people interested in the work.
You can sign up to serve on a table
You can invite us to come speak at your organization and recruit some folks to love a young person. Our email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
And maybe you have another way to help, feel free to share that too. We are open to suggestions.