Driving to work, Patricia Holland is haunted by an abandoned hotel on Capital Boulevard. A mile farther, she glimpses people sleeping street-side, sometimes shielded only by bridges.
Once on duty as a correctional officer at Central Prison in Raleigh, Holland oversees the youngest of inmates, only to learn many grew up in the foster care system and found little support, safety or security when they left.
In 2012, Holland and her husband, Wallace, started All Things New, Inc., to aid young adults as they age out of the foster care system. Those young people are often unprepared for the independence of adulthood, making them magnets for homelessness, unemployment and incarceration.
All Things New will wrap up National Foster Care Month in May with Developing Youth Empowered Support, a get-acquainted session on Saturday, May 30, at the J.D Lewis Center in Raleigh.
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The event is open to all young adults and community members to learn more about the organization, community resources and each other, whether they’ve experienced foster care or not.
All Things New assists with everything from mentoring, GED preparation and college applications to life skills such as finances, meal preparation, transportation, health care and housing, said Veronica Scott, an All Things New adviser and volunteer.
The group also collects toiletries and other necessities for foster children when they’re taken from their homes, either biological or foster – often for things like abuse, domestic violence, drug busts and arrests.
The organization’s long-term goal is to provide transitional housing for those between 18 and 22 while they continue their education or work, Scott said. The program would include 18 months of housing and six months of after-care.
When the Hollands started All Things New, foster children aged out of the system at 18. Last month, state legislators made strides to increase the age to 19.
No matter the age, a safety net of advocacy is crucial.
“Once they age out, if they haven’t been adopted or the foster parent hasn’t stepped in to take them back into the home and family, they’re given a bag and told they’re on their own,” Holland said. “It’s hard to go from zero to 100 with nobody to guide you.”
On average, about 634 children are in foster care in Wake County each day.
In North Carolina, up to 20,000 children lived in foster care in 2014, Holland said. The same year, 959 aged out, she she.
In 2013, about 640,000 children in the United States spent time in foster care.
Citing a 2011 report by childrensrights.org, Holland shared this national picture of foster children:
▪ 20 to 30 percent experienced homelessness
▪ 40 to 63 percent didn’t finish high school
▪ 25 to 55 percent were unemployed or underemployed
▪ 62 percent struggled for health care
▪ 31 to 42 percent had been arrested
▪ 18 to 26 percent were incarcerated
▪ 40 to 60 percent got pregnant within 12 to 18 months
When she was12, Veronica Armstrong was taken from her mother, along with three of her siblings. At 17, she and her twin, Monica, moved into their first apartment. Today, both are advocates for foster care and its children.
Armstrong, who maintains strong bonds with her biological and foster mothers, said she “tapped into all of my resources,” pointing to Wake County’s LINKS, the Hope Center at Pullen and Wake Tech’s Fostering Bright Futures Fellowship.
But too many don’t know where to turn, said Armstrong, 27, who is a student at UNC-Greensboro. That’s why she applauds All Things New and other grassroots efforts for “standing up to take initiative.”
“I hope it becomes a trend,” she said.
“If we say children are our future and we’re focusing on that fact, let’s not leave out foster care’s children and young adults,” Holland said. “They’re our future, too.
“Think of where you were at the age of 18 or 19. Were you ready to be out on your own?”
If you go
All Things New will host Developing Youth Empowered Support from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, May 30, at the J.D Lewis Center, 2245 Garner Road, Raleigh. For details, go to 2allthingsnew.com.