Teaching young people to learn from experience

The All Stars 2018: back row, Tasha, Yesenia, Zoe, Julia, Aryelle, Carson; front row, Sienna, Devon.

This summer, 27 interns are learning how to make the most of their life experiences through Foster Club, a national network for young people in foster care. Celeste Bodner, the executive director, founded the organization in 2002.

The Seaside-based organization empowers young people currently in and from foster care to connect, be inspired, and, possibly most importantly, master tips and strategies to represent themselves in order to educate and influence policy makes for foster care.

Built for youth, powered by youth, these young people are changing lives.

On a warm Monday morning in late June, the All Stars, a group of young people selected for their leadership abilities, convened at Foster Club’s seminar training room for a session called “Milestones,” a story-sharing project. Several of them had recently returned from a youth conference in Montana.

The All Stars hail from all over the country, with interns from Texas, Florida, Arizona, Michigan, Missouri, New York. One young woman is an Oregon native. They range in ages from 19 to 24. All are veterans of the foster care system.

A significant portion of Foster Club’s mission is helping youth who are currently in foster care understand their rights while they are in the system.

Many of these children are in their teens and Bodner believes they should have a solid grasp on their legal rights.

Through Foster Club programs, they learn the ins-and-outs of how the system works, and how to advocate for themselves and others. Through workshops and trainings, they learn how to best make their voices heard by politicians and policy makers, the public and influencers of the system that impacts their lives.

A staggering number of children enter the foster care system every year. It’s imperative these youths learn what their rights are, and how to best succeed while in the system.

For example, they learn what medications they can legally be given, how to not be trafficked, navigating sibling separation, what scholarships are available to them to further their education and independent living.

Importantly, they learn how to manage the tricky and dangerous period when they “age out” of services so they don’t wind up on the street.

According to currently available information roughly 428,000 minors in the United States are presently in foster care. They enter the system because of parental neglect, parental drug use, their legal caretaker’s inability to cope. More than 20,000 of them age out of care each year, leaving 18-year-olds with no home, no parental figure, and no safety net.

Bodner said she started the organization initially as a website after she and her husband became the de facto foster parents to two boys who lived next door. She said from the start, she wanted Foster Club to be informed from a youth perspective. Essential programs were gradually developed encompassing youth leadership, national policy training, outreach, social media, a help line. Foster Club is partnered with the Providence Foundation and is a model program for youth in foster care about policy work and system change.

“We are now represented in more than 30 states,” Bodner said. “We’ve been instrumental in the passage of several new laws regarding foster care.”

The Milestones meeting began with a Native American Yakama Tribe exercise where participants used a string they dotted with knots, each knot representing a major milestone in their lives. There was a lot of sharing, but no war stories. It was an emotional but uplifting event. It was impossible not to be moved by these young people who survived their early life experiences and have flourished.

Whether you are a child welfare professional, a concerned citizen, a foster parent or caretaker, or a foster youth, Foster Club exists to provide life improving resources.

Being placed in foster care is a chaotic and anguishing experience, but it doesn’t have to be crushing. For more information, log on to www.fosterclub.org.

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