By Elise Heidlebaugh
(Ed. Note: This is the first in a series of posts by FTSG super-volunteer and donor Elyse Heidlebaugh. 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.**
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:
“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.
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…
** Source: DISRUPTING THE PATHWAY FROM FOSTER CARE TO THE
JUSTICE SYSTEM—A FORMER PROSECUTOR’S
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