Helping Our Invisible Homeless: Our Teens, Aged Out Foster Care Youth

Helping Our Invisible Homeless: Our Teens, Aged Out Foster Care Youth I am shocked. When the new numbers came out on poverty and homelessness that revealed that the United States now has more homeless teens than any other first world country, it barely made headlines. More than 40% of the homeless in our country are age 18 or under. More than 1 million kids in K-12 are homeless. Apparently what purse Kanye West buys Kim Kardashian for Christmas is far more important than the national crisis on hand. We pat ourselves on the back, because the number of kids in foster care has declined overall in the past decade– still at about 500,000 – but yet the numbers of 18-year-olds aging out without one caring adult in their lives has skyrocketed. Our government labels them “legal orphans.” And the majority of states still have the brutal policy of dumping our teens in foster care out of the system on their 18th birthdays. I’ve sat with caseworkers who have wept about being required to drop a teenager off at a local homeless shelter on his or her birthday. PLEASE CLICK ON TITLE TO READ FULL BLOG

How an 18-Year-Old in Foster Care Celebrates

How an 18-Year-Old in Foster Care Celebrates Do you know how an 18-year-old who has been in foster care in Louisiana celebrates his/her birthday? By being dropped of at a homeless shelter. Even if that young person is in high school and in the middle of senior year, he/she is displaced. I was shattered to learn this. Only 18 states out of the 50 have applied to extend care to young people in foster care beyond age 18, yet all the research points to most young people needing some sort of parental support until age 26. Why do legislators persist in thinking kids who have been institutionalized in a group home setting (which most teens in foster care are) should magically be ready to be on their own the day they turn...

Our Broken Education System

Our Broken Education System “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” –Albert Einstein When asked about school, Bruce Springsteen, who dropped out of college said: “I wasn’t quite suited for the educational system. One problem with the way the educational system is set up is that it only recognizes a certain type of intelligence, and it’s incredibly restrictive — very, very restrictive. There are so many types of intelligence, and people who would be at their best outside of that structure [get lost].” I’m with Bruce on this one. When our son Connor was in kindergarten, his...

Forgiveness is a Gift that Brings Peace

Forgiveness is a Gift that Brings Peace Forgiveness is one of the most difficult topics we broach in our Orange Duffel Bag Foundation coaching classes with teens aging out of foster care and homeless youth. Some of the kids are amazed that Sam Bracken could forgive his mom for abandoning him to homelessness. They are even more amazed that he decided to walk away from confronting his biological father when pure chance gave him the home phone number of the man who had raped his mother. (Those stories and much more are in “My Orange Duffel Bag: A Journey to Radical Change,” the book our life plan coaching is based upon.) Yet, I’ve seen that both of those decisions have brought Sam great peace....

My Wish: That No Young Person Would Leave Foster Care as a Legal Orphan

Through our relationship with Columbia University’s graduate level film class, led by Lance Weiler and Atley Loughridge, I was asked to be a blogger for “GOOD Magazine,” which is all about bringing together thinkers and ideas to make the world a better place. From the time Sam Bracken and I co-founded the Orange Duffel Bag Foundation (www.ODBF.org) in 2010, we dreamed of helping homeless youth and teens aging out of foster care make all kinds of connections that would help them on their journeys to self-sufficiency. We’ve been so heartened by the response. Many volunteers have joined hands with us to advocate for our kids. More than 100 teens...

ODBF Class Reunion

ODBF Class Reunion On December 1 the Orange Duffel Bag Foundation celebrated a class reunion of the five classes of young people we’ve graduated thus far from our 12-week life plan coaching program. More than 40 of our youth who have been in foster care gathered at the Historic Academy of Medicine at Georgia Tech for a full day of inspiring speakers, follow ups to help our ODBF grads with their life plans and inspiring presentations by our youth. Our next reunion will be Saturday, April 27. Since our inception, more than 100 teens have graduated our program. Several of them are now in college. Additionally, we’ve introduced more than 2,000 young people to our life plan...

The Power of Storytelling to Promote Social Change

The Power of Storytelling to Promote Social Change Columbia University in the City of New York‘s graduate-level multi-media class’ Professor Lance Weiler discovered Orange Duffel Bag Foundation on Facebook,  through a mutual friend of my brother Kevin Montgomery, who did a second 50 States in 50 Days tour to bring attention to our cause. Lance chose us as the basis for this semester’s class on the power of storytelling to promote social change. I got to speak to the class in September. By the end of the semester, the students created a multi-media experience designed to help people understand what it’s like to age out of foster care at age 18. Weiler wrote about the project in a recent issue of...

Hitting Roadblocks to Higher Education

Hitting Roadblocks to Higher Education I recently hung out with Gi’Nia Stone, 20, who graduated from our first Orange Duffel Bag Foundation (www.ODBF.org) coaching class in August of 2010. With our encouragement, Gi’Nia, who graduated third in her high school class despite going through two failed adoptions and being shifted to several foster homes since entering foster care at age six, applied and was accepted to Agnes Scott College. When she turned age 18, Gi’Nia originally made the decision to sign herself back into care, which allowed her to continue with the Independent Living Program (ILP). However, like the majority of young people, who have been in foster care and make the decision to sign...

Desert Renewal: Finding Our Way Back After My Husband’s Brain Injury

Desert Renewal: Finding Our Way Back After My Husband’s Brain Injury “The Atlanta Journal Constitution” just published my essay that I wrote a few years after Kevin’s car accident in November 2004. I’d originally sold it to AARP in 2008 — I couldn’t write about what we were going through before then, because it was too painful and fresh. We finally settled with the insurance companies that year, then AARP stopped running experiential travel essays and kept it in inventory for a year, releasing the rights to me in 2009. It won Travel Classics West for Best Article. With my husband Kevin Garrett’s blessing — he’s doing well now though still has some short-term memory issues and pain...

Hope but No Home for the Holidays

Hope but No Home for the Holidays Most of us look forward to the holidays with delight. This time of year means sharing happy times with family and friends. But for many young adults who have come out of foster care, and older teens in foster care, the holidays are a painful reminder of their lack of relationships. When Sam Bracken — whose story is told in our book “My Orange Duffel Bag” (www.MyOrangeDuffelBag.com) — came to Georgia Tech to play football and get an education, he was homeless. Every college break he struggled with the worry of where he would eat and sleep. I was shocked to learn that 30 years later, the elite 3% of all kids who have been in foster care and manage to make...

Respect the Writer

Respect the Writer I’m from a family of songwriters/singers. I was in a leadership class several years ago, and the topic was ethics. The moderator asked who thought it was wrong to download music for free (this is when those ripoff sites were first proliferating). I was the only one who raised my hand. I was shocked and appalled. These were educated people, who were tops in their respective fields. But not one them considered what it took to create that song that they so easily downloaded for free or burned an illegal copy for their friends. When you download music for free — unless the artist is offering it as a gift or incentive — you are invalidating the work that...

Change a Life: Buy One and Get One to Give

Change a Life: Buy One and Get One to Give If you are part of group that gives holiday gifts to at-risk kids — especially teens — please consider a purchase of our book. If you send us proof of purchase, Sam Bracken and I will match each purchase of the Crown Archetype version with a donation of our original self-published version to either the kids you purchase the books for or to Orange Duffel Bag Foundation (www.ODBF.org), which serves homeless youth and teens aging out of foster care. That means that you are effectively getting a copy for half price, and you are giving a gift that gives kids hope. Cat Blanco has signed copies at BOOK EXCHANGE/MARIETTA, GA and Kathy L. Patrick also has copies at...

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