Do Just One Thing and YOU Can Lower the Poverty Rate, Prevent Homelessness, and Keep People Out of Prison

By Elise Heidlebaugh

(Ed. Note: This is the first in a series of posts by FTSG super-volunteer and donor Elyse Elyse HeidlebaughHeidlebaugh. Elyse is eager to start a conversation, so comments are open on this post but will be moderated to keep the spam level to a dull roar.)

Warning: This blog post may make you feel as though you’ve downed one too many Red Bulls. Other symptoms might include a ‘save the world’ complex and a determination to change our community that’ll beat like a war drum inside your chest.

Your life may never be the same again.

Are you ready? Because I’m about to give you THE secret to drastically reducing homelessness, incarceration and poverty.  Learning this secret transformed my life, and I hope it does the same for you.

Before we get to the secret, though, you need to know the following:

There are approximately 500,000 children and teens in foster care nationwide, and about 13,000 here in Michigan. When they age out of the system:

  • 51% will be unemployed
  • One-third will be on public assistance
  • 25% [will]become homeless …, and
  • 25% will be incarcerated.**
There's a good chance that this woman is a former foster child

There’s a good chance that this woman is a former foster child

This information may well want to make you literally explode. You’re probably as shocked and furious as I was to learn that so many of “our” children, children who have already been neglected or abused to the point of having to go into foster care, aren’t receiving the support they need to become healthy, contributing adults.  Or, as the National Commission on Children put it in 1991:

From Foster Care to Jail Cell -- but there is a solution!

From Foster Care to Jail Cell — but there is a solution!

“If the nation had deliberately designed a system that would  frustrate the professionals who staff it, anger the public who finance it, and abandon the  children who depend on it, it could not have done a better job than the present child-welfare  system.”**



But no matter how shocked or furious you are, you may also feel overwhelmed. And that’s where the secret comes in:

The only thing each of us needs to do to have an impact on poverty, homelessness, and our overcrowded jail system (and become a real, legit superhero) is to make a difference in the life of one foster child or teen! And if you want to earn a cape to go along with your superhero suit, convince one of your friends, co-workers, or family members to do the same.

Can you see where I’m going here? Is your mind blown yet? Let me blow it for you just a bit more:

Making a positive impact on the life of one of our area’s foster children or teens is easy.

Detroit Rotarian Ray Opezzo serving up the popcorn.

Detroit Rotarian Ray Opezzo at an FTSG Holiday Bazaar for Foster Children

Here’s just a few examples:

* Donate new/nearly new school clothing or supplies to this year’s School Clothing & Uniform Drive for Foster Children and Teens;
* Provide a teen or child in foster care with a new pair of glasses;
* Sign up to teach guitar (or pretty much any instrument) to a foster child for one year at a reduced rate;
* If you’re an orthodontist or dentist who does orthodontic work, provide one service to one child or teen in foster care for just a single year.

Believe me,  I share your anger at the system that creates such bleak outcomes for “our” kids. I share your passion to right the wrongs. Most importantly though, I share your immense hopefulness. Because if we each focus our powers on making a positive difference in the life of just one foster child or teen, we will give “our” kids the boost they need to avoid  homelessness, incarceration, and poverty.

We can prevent the sort of baggage that creates a lifetime of struggle.

Now that you know how easy it is to serve a foster child or teen, and by doing so make a huge impact on our area’s poverty, homelessness, and incarceration rates, let’s latch on to For The Seventh Generation with both hands and start changing lives, one metro-Detroit foster child at a time.

Till next time, please carry on the conversation…



PERSPECTIVES ON REFORM by Miriam Aroni Krinsky

Available as a .PDF here.

Photos of the homeless woman and the jail cell courtesy  Rob Slaven and Fernando Silviera via Flickr

Helping Our Foster Children & Teens Enjoy the Gift of Music: Play It Forward

by Sonya Mastic, Play It Forward Committee Chair Sonya

Even though I grew up with my birth family, we had a very limited income. This meant that I didn’t have the same options as the other kids, including the chance to make my dream of taking music lessons come true.

But at least I had my family — “our” kids in foster care today don’t have any options. They don’t get to choose where they live, or with whom, and they’re wards of a state that’s fiscally stretched to the max. PIF Girl Trombone Jerry Wong

And that’s why Play It Forward was born: as a woman who grew up to be a musician and music teacher, I have an intimate understanding of the positive impact that making music can have on children’s lives. I also know what it’s like to be a child who can’t take music lessons. I can’t think of a better cause than giving foster children & teens the gift of making music.

How does Play It Forward work? Good question! We provide one year of FREE music lessons and a free instrument to children and teens in foster care! We also follow their progress closely to make sure that they’re a good match with their instructor and instrument – and if we see that a child is really interested and excelling at their instrument, we will find a way to continue their musical education after the one year deadline is up.

In most cases, these music lessons are the only extracurricular activity that Play It Forward students are allowed to participate in. This is the one thing these foster youth are allowed to do to help them feel like “normal” kids.

PIF Pic Boy Piano woodleyworksThe idea for Play It Forward came from my own experience watching children grow as they learned how to play their instruments. In 2011 I owned my own private lesson facility, and I watched first hand as our students blossomed, gained confidence, and functioned at a much higher level in other areas of their lives.

After learning that there weren’t any existing programs in Metro Detroit to provide foster children with music lessons and instruments, one of my friends connected me with For The Seventh Generation Executive Director Lorraine Weber – and the rest (as they say) is history.

The past three years have been fantastic! We have a committee filled with compassionate folks who have worked tirelessly to create the structure for Play It Forward and raise funds for the program. A host of music teachers, volunteers, and foster care workers have also been a tremendous help – without them, we wouldn’t be here.

Carole Hoste from the Detroit School of Music is one of our biggest supporters, and teaches many foster children and teens at her facility.

PIF pic musical scale Internet ArchiveOn paper, Play It Forward looks simple. Find a foster child or teen who wants lessons, give them an instrument, and connect them with a music teacher. In reality, though, the program is fairly complex. In addition to providing lessons, we collect donated instruments and raise funds to pay our instructors (PIF music teachers accept half of their usual rates), buy the necessary books, and pay for bus passes or other transportation to make it possible for the students to get to their lessons.

Our goal – like For The Seventh Generation’s goal – is to do whatever is necessary to actually invest, in a long term way, in our area’s foster children and teens.

Help A Metro Detroit-Area Foster Child or Teen Start Music Lessons This Year

playitforward logo for Sonya's blog

Play It Forward needs your help if you can do any of the following:

Provide music lessons at a reduced cost
Donate a new or gently-used instrument
Make a monetary gift of $25, $50, $75 (or any amount) to give “our” kids in foster care the gift of making music.

Questions? Suggestions? Wonderful! Email me ( and I’ll be happy to help!

I would teach children music, physics, and philosophy; but most importantly music, for the patterns in music and all the arts are the keys to learning. – Plato

About Sonya Mastick:

In addition to her work with Play It Forward, Sonya Mastic is a musician, writer, researcher, entrepreneur, poet with twenty-plus years of experience that have taken her not only to every bar and club in metro Detroit, but throughout all of North America. She has had a hand in every aspect of the music industry, from live gigs and studio work to promotions and booking.

Meet FTSG “Super Donor” & Volunteer Elyse Heidelbaugh


She Gives Her Time, Her Money and Her Passion —  and Starting This Month She’ll be Blogging About “Our” Foster Children

For The Seventh Generation lets me ask what our foster Elyse Heidlebaughchildren want, and by doing that it helps me extend my motherhood.

Elyse Heidelbaugh of Berkley has been an FTSG donor and volunteer for about a year now — and what a donor! She has purchased brand new beds and cribs for metro Detroit children in foster care; donated to last year’s School Uniform Drive; and most recently, Elyse made it possible for a young girl in foster care to join a cheerleading team.

Why does she do it?

I would never look at my daughter and ask, ‘What’s the bare minimum you need to survive?,” and be content with that. I’m always thinking, ‘How can I make you happy, and what do you want?’ For The Seventh Generation lets me ask what our foster children want, and by doing that it helps me extend my motherhood.

Of course, given that she’s a full-time parent and in school, some people might also ask HOW she does it.

Elyse, who found FTSG while doing an Internet search for a charity to be involved in, says that our organization’s flexibility makes it easy for her to be involved, even with a toddler at home and homework to get done.

I didn’t want to just write a check and be done — I wanted to do something more personalized for foster children, and I love going out and buying the things they need. What I really like about For The Seventh Generation is that you get to pick which opportunities you want to help with.

For The Seventh Generation is the only organization with the flexibility to let me be involved the way I want to be involved. With my little girl at home I can’t commit to volunteer specific hours or days, but (Help Closet Coordinator) Shirley asks what I want to do and then works to make that happen.

Elyse, who is originally from Sydney, Australia, has been in the US for seven years. Elyse’s husband, Mike, works as a resident in emergency medicine. Elyse was working as an assistant preschool teacher while studying at Wright State University when both her work and her education were happily interrupted with the birth of their first child, Ella, in February 2013.

But being a stay-at-home mom is just part of the great work Elyse is doing; in addition to supporting For The Seventh Generation she has returned to her Theology studies.

Finally, we asked Elyse why she was drawn to help foster children given that, before finding For The Seventh Generation, she had never met anyone connected with the foster care system either in Australia or here in Michigan.

“The birth of my daughter really busted my heart open,” she told us. Parenthood doesn’t stop at your own child; any one of these children in foster care could be one of ours.”

Elyse has become so passionate about foster children, in fact, that she reads “everything I can get my hands on” and as a result has learned a lot about foster children, families, teens — and the foster care system as a whole. When we heard that, we naturally asked if she would be willing to blog for For The Seventh Generation about the rules, regulations, and challenges “our” kids face — and she said yes!

With that in mind, look for Elyse’s posts on the third week of every month, starting this August 20 when she’ll share how helping foster children can be the most efficient way of helping society. Until then (and always), please join us in thanking Elyse for everything she has done, and continues to do, for “our” kids!

Do you have a foster care story to share?

Are you a former or current (over 18) foster child or teen, a foster parent, or a foster care worker? If so, we welcome your story! Our goal is to educate as many people as we can about about the world of foster care in SE Michigan, our state, our country and beyond. If you’re interested please contact Dawn Wolfe for details by posting a message on our Facebook page. Dawn will be happy to interview you or to help you write your post. And don’t worry, she’s a gentle editor!