Connections Homes, a faith-based non-profit aimed at connecting older foster kids with families who can mentor them is launching the “Don’t Go Alone” campaign to raise awareness of the nearly 700 foster kids who age-out of Georgia’s foster care system annually but still need an adult in their life. Connections Homes, the Lawrenceville-based organization, was founded by Pam Parish, of Loganville.
“The Don’t Go Alone campaign is designed to emphasize that these kids can have stable adults in their lives to love and guide them to make smart decisions,” Parish said in a press release. “Just having an adult take you to dinner and give you a little advice on what to wear to a job interview, how to save money or invite you to become a part of their life makes all the difference in the world to these kids.”
The issue is personal for Parish who has eight daughters, seven of them adopted from the foster care system.
“Five of them came in after they were 18,” Parish said, adding that her interest in helping these teens came from personal experiences. “Most just don’t have the skills to survive.”
According to the statistics shared in the release from Connections Homes, foster children who age-out of the system between ages 18 and 21 usually lack adults who can be good role models in their lives as they mature into adulthood. More than 40 % of foster children who age-out of the system are homeless within 18 months and 50 % have substance abuse issues. In addition, 50 % of children born to women who aged-out of the foster care system also themselves end up in foster care.
Parish said her organization works with Journey Church in Loganville as well as the other foster home organizations in Walton County, such as Families for Families.
Parish said the Don’t Go Alone campaign wants to remind people in the community to reach out and serve others – especially these older foster children – because “everybody deserves somebody and not a single youth should ever have to go alone into adulthood.”
“These kids just need someone to offer advice on how to navigate the world since they do not have reliable parents in their lives,” she said, adding it is very personally satisfying to be able to make a difference in the life of a child. “I think for me it’s just how it makes you feel to be able to invest in a young persons life and watched them over time. A simple yes can totally change the trajectory of life for a kid.”
With the “Don’t Go Alone” campaign, Connections Homes will sell merchandise to raise funds and awareness of the need for Mentoring Families to engage with teens and young adults from the foster care system.
The campaign will include accepting donated gently-used career clothing so youth in transitional and independent living can use it for job interviews. It will provide case managers, foster care providers, and high school and college counselors with toolkits for at-risk youth to connect them with mentors.
The campaign will include the distribution of messenger bags with Don’t Go Alone branded items and information for foster kids age 16 and older in the foster care system, to foster kids in homeless shelters and at schools on the availability of mentors for the 700 children who age-out of Georgia foster homes and group homes annually.
Connections Homes tells the story of Tayla, a Connections Homes youth, who was nervous about entering adulthood and overwhelmed with the big decisions that lay ahead.
“Connections Homes has been the bridge between childhood and adulthood for me,” she said. “This program has connected me to an amazing family who consistently has my best interest. Growing up is hard, but growing alone is terrifying. Connections Homes helps to make an already scary journey a lot sounder.”
Another youth who attributions his success in life to the help he received through Connection Homes and the mentoring and love of a family is Sebastian. He entered foster care at the age of 15 and is the first person in his family to graduate high school. Despite his circumstances, he was on the Student Body Board, President of the Technology Students Association, played lacrosse and ran track while in high school. He is now a 20-year-old college student who would one day like to be a heart surgeon, that desire sparked by his 5-year-old sister that has a hole in her heart. He learned very early in life that if wants something he needs to make it happen; it isn’t going to be handed to him. His life motto is “Make it happen!”
Sebastian is described as a “bright, determined, sweet young man who was on the right path in life but needed support and wanted family so he reached out to Connections Homes.” The organization was able to pair him with Russ and Olivia who quickly took him under their wing and into their hearts.
“Things are going great with Sebastian. He’s really and truly the sweetest kid. We’ve very quickly grown to love him, and feel that it’s reciprocated,” Olivia said, thank Connections Homes for pairing them with Sebastian. “We feel he’s the perfect fit for our family.”
Although the organization is currently just in Georgia, Parish said they hope to take it nationwide at some point.
“We are currently actively seeking To hire an executive director to start one in the Dallas, Texas area,” Parish said.
To volunteer with Connections Homes as a youth mentor or learn more about the Don’t Go Alone campaign, go to DontGoAlone.life