Making a Difference with Foster Teens Through Kiwanis
One of my favorite things to do is to give back to my community and make a difference in the world. This is the story of how I was inspired by a young girl, found out about the homeless youth in Phoenix, and found a club that is making a difference.
When I moved in with Luke, he had 3 teens living with him part time. Rebecca, Amber, and John. To me, they are my children, and they are all equal. For Luke, Amber was a new addition.
During Amber’s freshman year, her mother had a slight head injury. She lost her job, couldn’t get a new one, and lost a place to live. At that time, Amber was friends with John. Amber’s mother asked Luke and his then-wife Jessica, if Amber could stay with them awhile until she found a place. That ended being until Amber graduated from high school.
Before Amber moved in with Luke and Jessica, her grades started to drop and she missed a lot of school.
After Amber moved in, she got her grades up. During her senior year, when most kids have half days, Amber went to school full time and did summer school so she could graduate on time. She also started working part time so she could save up money. Amber began to thrive in a stable home.
When I met Amber, I was inspired. Here is a young kid who didn’t let her circumstances stop her from succeeding. She works extremely hard, and is genuinely happy. She was also given a second chance with the Shoemakers.
Homeless Teens & Teens In Foster Care
When I found out about Amber’s story, I started to wonder how many other teens were in the same situation. Surprisingly, there are a lot.
In 2013 in Arizona, over 31,000 children school age were reported as homeless. 73% of these children are similar to Amber’s situation, living “temporarily” with a family. 22% were in shelters, 3% in hotels or motels, and 2% were completely homeless. Living in cars, parks, campgrounds and abandoned buildings.
I had a typical California suburban white childhood. AND high school was not a fun time for me. I can’t imagine what it would be like if I didn’t have my mother taking care of me, if I didn’t have a home, if I didn’t have proper health insurance.
Ahwatukee, the area in Phoenix where I live, is suburban. It is safe. I would never think we would have more kids like Amber. Turns out, we have 17 kids who could be classified as “homeless” in our area alone. There is more throughout Phoenix. I wanted to help these kids have a fighting chance. Especially the teens.
In foster care, you get basic needs. Top ramen soup to eat, or frozen dinners. You get a basic allowance to purchase basic needs like toothbrush, toothpaste, shower items, shaving gel, etc. You get some basic clothes.
You don’t get your driver’s license unless you have someone who is willing to take you out in their car and help you practice. You don’t get birthday celebrations, or holiday celebrations through the foster home, as they can’t afford it. You have to hope you have some family member who will remember you.
When you are 18, you are an adult. You can no longer stay in foster care. You have to go out on your own, get a job, and figure out life.
I can’t imagine it. 18 is legally an adult, but they are still children.
Give Them A Fighting Chance
I was touched, moved and inspired to do something for these kids. I asked the Ahwatukee Chamber of Commerce about what I could do. I wanted to do a big fundraiser and help these kids some how. They introduced me to Andi Pettyjohn.
Andi has a passion for teens in foster care. It started when she realized these kids didn’t get any gifts for Christmas. She started collecting basic need items such as socks, underwear, and clothing for homes. Her project grew from a few homes to ten last year. She expanded her project to include a Thanksgiving dinner for over 300 teens in 2014. This year, we expect it to grow.
I wanted to help. I joined her club, Kiwanis, in order to help these kids.
Kiwanis and What We Do
Kiwanis was founded in 1915, originally as a business networking group. The club started to give back to the community, and the members decided they wanted to focus on service and not business. In 1919, they became a service oriented club. They started to expand.
Surprisingly (to me at least), Kiwanis was a male only club until 1987. Our club, the Kiwanis Club of Ahwatukee, was founded in 1982. Some of the original members are still there. All the members are volunteers, and take their own time and sometimes their own money, to make a difference.
We meet regularly, fundraise, and give back. Projects include reading to children in impoverished areas, giving them books, to providing gifts and holiday celebrations for kids in foster homes.
Our biggest fundraiser currently is the Ahwatukee Easter Parade. This is where we raise most of our money so we can give back.
I am excited that my big fundraiser that I wanted to do 2 years ago is coming to life. I am spearheading a campaign with Carmen Paiz to raise money specifically for teens in foster youth during the holidays. The 1st annual Ahwatukee Halloween Bash. Not only do I get to start talking about Halloween now, but I also get to make a major difference in the lives of teens in my community.
I am continually shocked by how much fun I have making a difference, and other people who are willing to step up and help. The more we help each other, the better the world is going to be.
I encourage you to look at doing something you love, and giving back, if you don’t already. Use your strengths and make this world a little better.
I would love to hear from you out there, what do you do? What causes are your passion? What difference are you making? Tell me, share your websites, and how we can help.