A ministry to youth leaving foster care
By Lesli Bartlett
For as long as I can remember, God has burdened my heart for children who were less fortunate than me.
As I grew up, I sensed that I needed to find a husband who shared the desire God had put in my heart to care for children in foster care. When I met Jeff, I shared with him how God had laid this on my heart.
Jeff and I truly believe every child is a gift from God. And God has blessed us more than we could possibly imagine with four amazing biological children and three amazing gifts He brought to us through foster care.
As the years went by, God began to burden our hearts again, this time for older teens in the foster care system. So often they age out of foster care without something we take for granted: family. As our children have grown, this burden became stronger as we tried to imagine our own older children out on their own without the support of a loving family. One of our sons came into our family at age 13 and is such a blessing to us that I cannot imagine our family without him.
After watching the movie From Place to Place and going to a Family Finding training, we felt led to start a program that would reach out with Christ’s love to youth leaving foster care.
We were blessed to discover that God had laid the same burden on friends who had attended the same training. Together we approached our church about starting a ministry for youth aging out of care.
This ministry could not have gotten off the ground without God laying it upon others’ hearts to get involved – people like Kevin and Katrina Clarke who helped us co-found Wraparound 82.3, my parents, Dave and Sheila Squire, who gave constant love, support and encouragement, and our amazing friends and family at Northside Baptist Church.
We have continued to stand in awe and amazement at God’s faithfulness. As we continued to get more and more calls from youth in need of support, God continued to supply the need with many more Christians wanting to get involved.
The ministry is called Wraparound 82.3, a name based on the principle found in Psalm 82:3 of helping those in need, particularly the fatherless. We feel God has called us as a Christian community to wrap around these youth with love and guidance.
When God put the desire in our hearts to start a ministry for youth leaving care, we couldn’t possibly imagine how quickly it would grow. We knew the need was great, but it turned out to be greater than any of us imagined. We have been particularly encouraged by Waiting to Belong.
We want to have a family for every teen. Our goal is to ensure that that every child who ages out of the foster care system has the necessary supports in place to thrive in society. There are three areas we focus on to achieve this goal:
- support for each teen leaving foster care,
- creating awareness,
- and providing support for the various aspects of our ministry.
Our primary focus is to support teens as they suddenly become adults and leave the system. We always attempt to show God's love for them in very practical ways. However, we have found that each person's needs are unique. We attempt to build friendships with the teens and work with them to determine how to best assist each of them. Our primary goal is to offer ongoing support through long-lasting relationships with one or more adults willing to be a parental figure in a youth’s life. We call these people wraparound parents.
In some cases, wraparound parents will write letters or send care packages of toiletries and other necessities to those who are away at college or university for the first time. In other cases, wraparound parents will stay in contact with local youth. Some of these local youth appreciate having an older mentor and dedicated times to meet for coffee and discuss life. Many youth struggle with the financial responsibilities that their sudden adulthood brings. In some cases, wraparound parents have offered to provide a room in their house while these young adults complete their schooling or begin their careers.
Some youth prefer to try living on their own. We have also seen great success in gaining the friendship and trust of these youth by providing food hampers. We call these the wrapped in love food hampers. They are typically put together using donations, but are presented by one of the Wraparound 82.3 co-founders or a youth's wraparound parents to try to maintain a personal touch. We typically provide non-perishable food but will also include some fresh food depending on our donations.
Creating awareness includes raising awareness of the needs, and awareness of the supplies to meet those needs for everyone involved. It is also important to improve your own awareness. For example, we have found it critical to get to know local Family and Children's Services staff. We were able to leverage relationships from our 15 years as foster parents to launch this ministry. Still, we were shocked to learn that youth get excited about care packages with toiletries – especially socks. They view these as essentials but tend not to like to spend their own money on them.
Also, we learned the importance of knowing different people and contacts within Family and Children's Services. Workers are busy and may not know everything another worker does. We found it was important to be honest and open with workers about what we could or couldn't do. Initially our desire to help youth leaving care did not match our ability. We turned to our local church to assist and began mobilizing wraparound parents and collecting for care packages and food hampers. Awareness was key here as well as many were willing, but didn't know where or how to help.
Recently we have seen additional awareness raised by word of mouth and social networking. Through this, we have seen other friends and churches ask how they can contribute and be involved, which has allowed us to further support more teens. One of our next steps will be to further raise awareness by holding information nights for people looking to donate to our ministry or become wraparound parents.
We are also working to expand the supports we have in place within our ministry. Our hope is to not just provide a single contact for aging-out teens; we want to wrap around them with an entire community to help support them. To this end, we continue to expand the network of families involved in wraparound parenting, fostering and adopting. We will also be starting support groups for wraparound parents to meet each other and discuss challenges or share successes. We are also beginning to have peers involved as friends or mentors.
If you would like to learn more about Wraparound 82.3, feel free to contact the ministry at [email protected].
Jeff and Lesli Bartlett live in Waterloo, Ontario, with their seven children. They have been foster parents for almost 15 years and have co-founded Wraparound 82.3, a ministry that seeks to support and show Christ's love to youth leaving foster care.
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