Swell Wishes: A Different Holiday Campaign November 23 2014, 0 Comments

For years I have hosted holiday parties and coordinated toy drives for children in need. The last few years, before starting Swell Forever, I was a part of some lovely and incredible efforts to provide holiday clothing and gifts for children who had entered foster care in my hometown. I love toys. I love kids. I love kids who need love. But I am also falling in love with a whole new group of people affected by the foster care system that need change and desperately need a champion. The young people that make up this population could use a lot of kindness, consideration and the outreach and support of people who care to help them realize their full potential.

They are the youth that age out of foster care.

They are the young women and men who are released from the state's care with often limited resources, a very unfair share of heartbreak and disappointment, and few fearless supporters to step in and say "you can do this. you can survive. you can thrive."

One unique need that continues to emerge when it comes to the topic of foster care and the current system is the plight and struggle of young adults who are aging out without a safety net and far too often, no adoptive family. For those of us who had the benefit of a permanent family, when we graduated high school, we likely had resources. We likely had people that cared whether we succeeded and rallied behind us when we were at risk of failing. We may have had a mom or dad or both to call in times of crises, they may have paid school tuition, housing bills, insurance, and for a lot of us, they paid for fun extras like clothes and cars. For the guys, parents may have even picked up the tab for those first dates and formal wear for events...possibly even chipped in on an engagement ring or a down payment on the first house. 

There are so many simple things the "average" kid with a family takes for granted, even a strict and arms length family situation. This time of year when schools often close up campus for the holidays, kids like me had a home to go back to and family with which to celebrate this festive time of year. When I lock my keys in my car, I still call my mom to save me.

When you first start paying taxes and owing money and filling out forms, who do you often turn to? Family.

I am 31 and I still ask for advice and feedback. I have parents that take an active interest in my child, my home, my business and do all they can to make success a more likely outcome in my life. I am well educated, have a great network of friends, business associates and supporters. I have them because I made some good choices that were built upon the strength and pillar of family that cared and assumed I would make the most of the opportunities given to me. They expected me to do great things. They believed for me.

Can you imagine not only working through the trauma of losing your birth family and navigating a very overwhelming and taxed system called "foster care," but also leaving the system with no safety net? You learn about finances, basic responsibility, etc. the hard knock way of life. You may have no one you trust to bounce ideas off of about schools, career, relationships and people to friend. You may not even know where to start to find a roof over your head. Every new event in life comes with an entire set of challenges most of us are shielded from through the network of family and close networks. I still can't tell a tax form from a volunteer sign up sheet. Thank heavens I have an accountant. How does someone in their late teens and early 20s figure this out alone?

I was shocked to hear that one of the ways state programs prep youth in foster care for Independence is to make sure no one in their past has stolen their identity. Can you believe it?!? You can be released into the world alone for the first time and your credit rating is already completely and utterly destroyed. How do you find housing, access to any credit, apply for school, etc.? 

This really happens. It is heartbreaking yet so real. It is just one contributing factor to the reason many of these youth find themselves homeless or with children in their teens.

Thankfully, there are lights in the darkness of this plight. Efforts like the Georgia Youth Opportunities Initiative help identify these young adults at risk and provide services to wrap support around them and prepare them for the challenges that could absolutely overwhelm the strongest of us. Out of such efforts, a platform called Georgia EmpowerMEnt has evolved that was founded by youth who have experienced foster care and want to help and support others walking the same tough path. They raise awareness among each other for their rights, unique opportunities and answers to questions that will help bring out more successful outcomes for all involved. 

Despite the difficulties I want people to recognize that these young adults face, more than anything, I want you to see their resilience and strength. They are striving for a happy ever after and have not given up hope for joy and happiness. They are making peace with the lemons life has thrown their way. They are choosing hope and so many of them have hearts as big as oceans.

The Swell Wishes campaign is a first for us as we celebrate our first year in business. It is a unique opportunity to be the family that loves on these adults, brings cheer and hope that people care, and reminds them that though they make face life alone or with demons to wrestle, they are not forgotten.

I urge you to become family this holiday season to a group that often gets very little attention yet bears the burden of so much hurt. They are not on the radars of the average charitable "toy drive." For the next month, we will be sharing their photos, stories, and a few items on their wish list that are available for purchase through our Amazon Swell Wishes Registry in partnership with GYOI. It would bring great joy to my heart to see our friends, customers and supporters lift these young adults up through a gesture as simple as giving a gift during the holiday season.

It's the true meaning of bringing cheer, am I right?

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