‘Aging out’ of foster care can bring difficulty

‘Aging out’ of foster care can bring difficulty

By Liz Thompson
July 3, 2017
ThisWeekNews

Her mother died of cancer when she was 10. Her father was physically abusive and she was removed from the home. In foster care, she lived in an emergency shelter, an all-girls group home and a co-ed group home.

Lisa Dickson was inspired by these experiences to become an advocate for change. At 16, she was accepted into college — her lifeline into the future.

“I remain forever grateful to Randy Mills, former admissions counselor at the University of Kentucky, for literally walking me down the hall to financial aid and telling them, ‘This girl has no family to help her — this girl needs grants,’ ” said Dickson, now a Westerville resident.

“It sounds great to say that I started college at age 16 — but by age 17, I was homeless due to trying to rescue my former roommate from a group home. This urge to rescue others is so strong that we Ohio foster-care (alumni) currently lead a workshop called ‘When Helping You Is Hurting Me,’ ” Dickson said.

During her time in foster care, Dickson said she often had no voice. Today, she listens to the voices of current and former foster youth. They stand side by side to improve outcomes for people in and from foster care.

Dickson considers it an honor to volunteer as communications chairwoman of Alumni of Care Together Improving Outcomes Now Ohio, and as co-facilitator of the Overcoming Hurdles in Ohio Youth Advisory Board. She helped create both groups in 2006. Their initiatives include annual trips to Washington, D.C., to share their hard-won experiences and advocate for policy change, such as ending the “pipeline” from foster care to homelessness.

“What I don’t get is this: I aged out of foster care in 1989 and ended up homeless,” Dickson said. “Why are today’s youths still aging out into homelessness? We could and should and must do better.”

U.S. Rep. Michael Turner (R-Dayton) created the Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act as a direct result of one of those visits to Washington.

This act, with no additional spending required, allows foster-care youth who are close to “aging out” of foster care to jump to the front of the waitlist for housing assistance when they reach 16 years old.

ACTION Ohio’s Suits for Success program provides professional attire to current and former foster youths who are preparing to enter the workforce. Suits for Success needs a future storage location for donated suits. The organization welcomes suit donations on an ongoing basis. It often pairs distribution of the suits with job-interview simulations and resume practice.

“Time and time again, our young people tell us that it’s not enough to know what the resources are — they need coaching and guidance regarding how to access them effectively.”

Two such places are Capital Law School’s free Family and Youth Advocacy Center (http://familyyouthlaw.org/fyac.php) for current or former foster youths and Columbus State Community College’s Scholar Network. (http://www.cscc.edu/about/ssi/)

“Even after graduating college, as a foster-care survivor, it can feel lonely to be ‘one of the ones who made it,’ ” Dickson said. “Our young people today deserve to have campus liaisons like Randy to support them.”

Holidays and birthdays can be lonely for current and former foster youths, when many families gather to celebrate.

“I’ve been married for 17 years and have two beloved stepdaughters, but I don’t expect them to understand what the foster-care experience was like for me,” Dickson said.

On Thanksgiving 2007, Dickson and other former foster youths from across the nation traveled to Washington to encourage the federal government to extend foster-care support to age 21. They shared Thanksgiving dinner on the steps of the U.S. Capitol.

From 2008 onward, Ohio has held statewide and regional early Thanksgiving dinners for foster-care teens and alumni. Dickson serves as lead planner.

“When we come together as brothers and sisters of the foster-care system, we can encourage and support one another. We celebrate each other’s success and continue to improve outcomes for the next generation.”

Much needs to be done, as an average of 150 children in Franklin County (Ohio) alone age out of foster care every year.

For more information, email info@fosteractionohio.org.

 

 

Dream weavers: Volunteers craft items for needy

Day by day

Dream weavers: Volunteers craft items for needy

By LIZ THOMPSON
October 18, 2016
This Week News

Now that cold weather is upon us, I get the urge to knit and crochet.

My friend Sandy Maxim of Gahanna (Ohio) told me about the ministry she knits for at St. Matthew Apostle Church. In 2015, the Knitting/Crocheting Ministry distributed 13,237 handmade items to 40 different organizations. That’s a lot of stitches.

Glenda Neely, also of Gahanna, told me it all began in 1990. Her mother had been diagnosed with viral cardiomyopathy and given a five-year prognosis.

“My sister, Paula, and I got her knitting lessons,” Neely said. “She began making scarves and hats and giving them to the Worthington United Methodist Church. Soon people were giving her yarn to make more, until she died in 1995.”

That same year, Neely saw a homeless person at Morse Road and Interstate 71 wearing one of her mother’s knitted hats. She knew her mother’s work should continue.

After Neely married, she joined St. Matthew. For seven years, she made scarves and gave them to her church for the St. Vincent de Paul Society. She also gave crochet lessons from 1997-98, and the idea grew by word of mouth.

Neely and eight other women now teach eighth-grade boys and girls at St. Matthew to knit and crochet. About 50 students give up part of their lunch hour to learn.

Many people have volunteered over the years by donating yarn and money to buy yarn, and by knitting/crocheting items in their homes. Presently, more than 150 people knit and crochet, and not just in Ohio.

In 2015, friends of Neely’s put an article about the ministry in Grit Magazine. Soon after publication, she received donations of yarn, hats and scarves from all over the U.S.

“We’ve received donations from at least 25 states,” Neely said. “One woman in Clifton, Colorado, had an urge to buy a round loom.”

After that reader saw the ministry’s website, she got busy. Recently she sent 79 hats. That was not her first donation.

“Since 1995, we have been blessed to make 78,295 items. We make men’s, women’s, children’s, teens’ and toddlers’ hats and scarves; baby blankets; lap robes; and little hats for preemies,” Neely said.

St. Pius X Church in Reynoldsburg (Ohio) also is involved. Neely takes yarn to the Pickerington (Ohio) Senior Center and to her hometown of Canton for people to make items.

A prayer, “May God bless you and keep you warm and safe,” is attached to each item.

In early November, thousands of items will be sorted at Mifflin (Ohio) Presbyterian Church for distribution and delivery.

“Organizations let us know their needs,” Neely said.

“I have a wonderful group of ladies who know what needs to be done, and they just do it (on distribution day),” she said. “We have a lot of fun.”

Anyone can drop off donations of yarn or finished items at the St. Matthew church office, 807 Havens Corners Road, Gahanna. Include a name, address and phone number so organizers can send a personal note. Checks can be made out to Mrs. Glenda Neely, with “The Knitting/Crocheting Ministry” on the memo line. All money is used to buy yarn.

At First Community Church in Grandview Heights (Ohio) and Hilliard (Ohio), volunteers crochet for the needy in another way. Their Mat Ministry began in 2013.

Plastic shopping bags are cut into strips and looped to make “plarn” — plastic strips wound like yarn — which is crocheted into 6-by-3-foot sleeping mats, mainly for the homeless.

“Since 2013, we have distributed over 200 mats to Heart to Heart at First Community, NNEMAP food pantry, Blue Star Mothers, an orphanage in the Dominican Republic and to a mission in Guatemala,” Marble Cliff resident Joan Talmage said. “The mats are used by homeless people to lie or sit on, or as blankets. People in homes may not have bedding or beds and … people use them to cover drafty doors and windows.”

This ministry needs help making plarn more than it needs additional bags. For information, call 614-486-1269.

First Community also has a knitting ministry. Many churches and organizations have similar ministries. Check them out and get knitting or crocheting.

The need is great when the cold winds blow.

 

Pantries, other groups help those in need

Day by Day
Pantries, other groups help those in need
Liz Thompson
January 28, 2015
THISWEEKNEWS

Uncertainty can mean not knowing where your next meal will come from.

Annamarie, 23, knew nothing but living on public assistance during her young life. Her mother dropped out of school with two children and later with a third child, opted to stay home to care for them, rather than find work.

“At this point, she stopped relying on family and got help from government assistance,” Annamarie said. “Even though we were poor, she did everything a stay-at-home mom would do and did it well. I never understood and still do not understand the path she took.”

She said her mother never felt adequate enough to have a job other than child care.

Annamarie said these experiences made her stronger and made her realize she wanted to provide for herself without help. She hopes others will try to understand her story, listen to others in similar situations and not punish the children of parents who don’t take the best path in life.

As soon as Annamarie was old enough, she got a job and broke the cycle of living on public assistance. “Luckily, I had help from my grandparents,” she said.

Her mother, now 40, has her first job and also is no longer on public assistance.

Statistics are only good as a marker. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (cnpp. usda.gov), a family of four, with young children, spends an average of $857 to $1,296 a month for groceries. That’s 4,380 meals a year.

Where you live isn’t always a good indicator of need.

The Worthington Resource Pantry, 445 E. Dublin-Granville Road, Building G, served 1,000 unique families in 2014 and 400 volunteers offered 15,000 hours to the pantry last year. It has a small, paid staff and is a walk-in choice pantry. That means no referral is necessary to walk in the door two times a month for assistance and shopping is similar to a grocery store.

Executive Director Jennifer Fralic explained assistance is based on family size and need. One time a year, adults show photo ID, proof of address and have a valid ID for each child. Eligibility is based on the six ZIP codes where students are enrolled in the school district. Last year, 30 percent of these students qualified for free lunches, up from 25 percent the year before.

They offer clients, called “neighbors,” employment, emergency and health-care resources as well as food. They partner with Columbus Diaper Coalition, for obvious needs, and Sedona Grace Foundation for dog food.

“I love Worthington,” Fralic said. “And love taking care of our neighbors so no one goes hungry. We see many who are either underemployed or experiencing health or family issues.”

This pantry is open 10 a.m. to noon Monday and Saturday and 4-6 p.m. Wednesday.

She agreed with Don Swogger, board president of the Grove City Food Pantry, that they are seeing more seniors with children and families combining households. Those who are homeless are given food they don’t have to cook.

“We give the homeless peanut butter, bread and canned goods and can’t give them meat,” Swogger said.

Grove City Food Pantry, 2710 Columbus St., has 100 volunteers, no paid staff and offers food and emergency services. Service is by referral only from Hands On Central Ohio, 195 N. Grant Ave., 614-221-2255.

“Right now this is mandatory and can cause delays,” Swogger said. “One of my goals is to have our own referral system.”

The pantry serves Grove City, Harrisburg and Orient and is open 2-4 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to noon the last two Saturdays of each month. For a family of four, the average given in goods is $135. Families can go to three different pantries a month.

Five years ago, Grove City Food Pantry served about 180 families and now the number is 270.

“Seeing the gratitude of the people truly in need is the highlight of my work,” Swogger said. “I believe it’s a calling from God, for me.”

In 2005, he almost died from complications of surgery and when he recovered he asked God, “What do you want me to do?”

Churches in both cities take turns offering community meals.

Hunger and need are constants in our society. These are only two pantries in a long list. Many people, like Annamarie and her mother, struggle to rise above poverty.

“There are no easy answers,” Swogger said. “All stories are unique.”

To be certain, we can help ease the uncertainty of those in need.

For more information, search handsoncentralohio.org, contact your city offices or local churches.