Over the past month I’ve had the chance to get to know Brooke Henze, founder of Swell Forever. Brooke is an entrepreneur with a passion for helping marginalized kids. She’s a good egg that way. Brooke reached out to me after They Break, You Know (also titled “The Child I Didn’t Adopt“) was published, since we both have an interest in foster care and adoption. This year Brooke is organizing a really cool holiday project specifically for kids who have aged out of the foster care system. She asked if I could help promote this cause, and, well, YES.
I’ll let Brooke explain from here:
Swell Wishes: A Different Holiday Campaign
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.
There are so many simple things the “average” kid with a family takes for granted. 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.
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, and relationships. 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. How does someone in their late teens and early 20s figure this out alone?
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.
Despite the difficulties I want people to recognize that these young adults show tremendous resilience and strength. They are striving for a happy ever after and have not given up hope for joy and happiness.
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 they are not forgotten.
I urge you to become family this holiday season to a group that 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?
Thank you, and Happy Holidays!