Looking Good: A Foster Care Portrait Event

Blaise and Katlyn Burns and Family (along with Stand Up For Kids Executive Director, Mark Stevens) were back to have family portraits made at Together We Can Foundation’s “Looking Good” Portrait Event. Many families are making this an annual event for their holiday portraits and some of our foster youth use this opportunity to have Senior pictures done. This is the 3rd year for this annual event. It is an opportunity for foster care youth, foster families, and families in need to have professional portraits created for the holidays.

Area portrait photographers, Jon and Julie Limtiaco, Ramone Permel, Jen Vetter, and Adelaide Rooney donated their time, energy, expertise, and passion to make great memories for youth and families.

Jon Limtiaco coaching 2 girls on posing.

Adelaide Rooney helping shoot a foster family.

Ramone Permel working that portrait magic.

Jen Vetter making smiles happen.

Thanks to all our volunteers and to the Renaissance Academy in Virginia Beach, Project HOPE, Stand Up For Kids, and Connect With A Wish for making this another successful event.

Jeremiah Stanley and Jason Grant

Jeramiah Stanley ponders for a moment about adult life…and then says quite determinedly, “I’m worried, I think it’s going to slap me in the face.”  The adults in the room chuckle but not him. Meanwhile, Jason Grant sits next to him nodding right along.

For high schoolers, these two actually have a pretty good assessment of what becoming an adult can feel like and I have to give them a lot of credit. It’s a bit a refreshing not to hear a young person shrug and assume that “3 Bugattis” in the garage at age 30 is going to be the norm they should plan for.  And really, it’s these two boys’ grasp on reality and honesty that has me responding- “Well, Jay (Jeramiah,) you’re probably right. But for my money, after working with the both of you for months, I think you’re going to be just fine and in fact, I’d be pretty happy if you guys end up running the world one day.”

That brings a smile to Jason’s face- Jeramiah is still hesitant. “I just worry that none of the adults or parents can tell you what to do or will want to help you anymore when you’re older,” he says.  Again, chuckles in the room from both ladies sitting by their sides.  Jeramiah and Jason both brought their grandmothers-the two women responsible for getting the boys into my class in the first place.  I laugh this time as well and look to the grandmothers, “Let you in on a secret, guys?  Adults loveto help and tell you what to do…no matter how old you get.  These ladies will welcome it.”  At this I finally get a smile from Jeramiah.

Both of these young men really do give me hope- it’s not just lip service while their families watch.  Jeramiah is a junior at Green Run High School and he thinks he’d like to get into computer programming in the future.  He’s got a math class looming over him that feels unsurmountable and yet, he really wants to just pass so he can take it a little easy during senior year and “chill out.” Once the chilling is done however, he worries he’ll still feel a little overwhelmed.  Right now, college just feels like more studying and more stressing. The back and forth in his mind between wanting to take it easy and wanting to pass classes and do well is often the pendulum swing high schoolers are used to.  It can easily feel like going back and forth between two extremes. But as we talk, I see in him much more drive than he’d like to let on. It’s not even a necessity for his field but he’d really like to earn an advanced diploma just to show that he could achieve it.  He figures, why not?

Jason is in 10thgrade at Bayside.  And even though we all do it to every younger generation, I still think it’s amusing to watch Jeramiah somberly tell Jason what he’s in for once he reaches junior year.  Yet I’m as confident about Jason’s future as I was Jeramiah’s.  Jason was at a yard sale when his grandmother ran into Jeramiah’s and before they knew it, both gents got signed up for the portfolio class. Jason describes being nervous at first, but after the first class he got on board completely.  He tells me that he found himself looking forward to class each day and even told fellow classmates what they could learn if they did some career research on bls.gov.  For his part, he took what I said to heart.  He looked further into becoming a U.S. Marshal and at this writing, was still very much committed to the plan.  He also managed to secure a job on weekends just by being friendly and having someone tell him how strong he looked- now he helps a moving company with occasional bookings.

What I like so much about my time spent with both of these young men is how honest and real they are. During our many class discussions, mock interviews, and even just casual conversation, neither one acts like they have it all “figured out.”  In fact, when I suggest that they will be adults at 18 they both scoff a bit and reply that they don’t imagine they’re going to feel like adults. Jason is proud to be a bit goofy and hates the idea of having to act like an adult.  Again, age and experience cause us “old” gals in the room to chuckle.  I assure him that he can still be goofy, and he absolutely will not magically figure it all out when the age of 18 drops. That said, I’m also careful to point out that both men will need to be aware that once they turn 18, any dumb “kid” decisions could cost them dearly in the legal system.  They both nod and suddenly I feel like we’re back to them feeling slapped in the face by adulthood.

Ultimately, I know that with our work there are only so many assurances we can give.  We know the stats and we know how easily one little sidestep can derail you good intentions. But I come back to the terrified young men who sit politely with their grandmothers and give them props for taking them to my class-  Jason tells me that he’s been trying to take my advice about networking and he’s already working to circle back to old teachers to keep fresh in their mind;   while Jeramiah mentions again how happy he is to have his portfolio just in case he has a “brain fart” in an interview and now can be assured to have tangible back-up in hand just in case.

I look at them both being so worried about adulthood and yet open and willing to use the resources they’re being presented to better prepare for it and I firmly believe that that becomes the magic mix of success. If we can instill just enough good, clean, healthy fear into the mind of youth that they actually yearn to learn more and possess the tools overcome the challenges they worry about; and, if we then present ourselves as resources and let them know that at no point will we just assume they should have it all in focus because after all, do we? Well then maybe, just maybe will we deserve the praise and the heartfelt thanks they give us.

Harvest Bellante, Program Director

No Throw Away Kids

no throw away kids

I’m standing in the back of the room watching young men and women who have genuinely struggled through adolescence be introduced, praised, and allowed to bask in a moment of glory in front of their family and their peers. They are here tonight because an organization like Tidewater Youth Services exists in our community. Tidewater Youth Services (TYS) takes on the challenge of youth that the rest of us would probably just as soon ignore—youth that struggle with emotional and behavioral challenges that sometimes lead to expulsion from school, loss of family connection, and sometimes to incarceration or worse.

These are our “throw-away” kids—the youth that we’d rather not have to think about. As someone who has spent a career educating and working with teens, I would be the first to admit that they can be difficult to love. They are prone to bite the hands that try to feed them and the incomplete wiring of their adolescent brains means that they are pretty sure they know everything and need nothing from the adults around them. They are not cute like young children or puppies in animal shelters. They do not tug at our heartstrings (or our philanthropic purse strings). When they tell us emphatically that they want to be left alone in whatever self-destructive tailspin they have found themselves in, it is hard not to just walk away.

But not walking away is exactly what they need and is exactly the void that TYS fills. They operate youth homes and crisis intervention homes where youth can get a mixture of structure, safety, and skills development. Sometimes what these youth most need is some guidance and support in developing skills that they never acquired. These can be communication skills, anger-management skills, the skills of self-reflection and self-assessment, or the skills of self-discipline anchored in a positive life-work vision for themselves.

At Together We Can we have been honored to work with Tidewater Youth Services over the years, bringing our Smart Transitions—Life-Work Portfolio Class and resource materials to the youth in their care. We provide some needed life skills around the importance of personal and work brand or reputation and to help them make a deep dive into career possibilities that actually align with their best gifts, passions, values, and aspirations. But, what we do is small compared to the time and energy that TYS devotes to these youth. They provide art instruction that draws out even the most introverted youth. They use anger replacement therapy to help the most wounded youth find better ways of relating to those around them. They take them on field trips and help them experience more of what life truly has to offer.

This is the work of intervention. These youth are at risk of disconnection. Disconnected youth are defined as being between 16 and 24, not working, not in school, and usually not connected to family or community in any significant way. In crisis, disconnected youth end up unemployed, homeless, incarcerated, or sexually trafficked and abused. TYS intervenes to keep youth with risk factors for disconnection from moving into crisis. In crisis they place an annual financial burden on the community of over $14,000 per youth. But whether your concern is fiscal or social, doing nothing about these youth—ignoring them—just isn’t smart.

As I watch one youth after another accept their awards from various TYS staff after being praised for their efforts and transformation, I can’t help but smile. These are not “throw-away” kids. These are opportunity youth. There is potential in every single young person in that room that it seems a shame to waste. I am grateful that organizations like Tidewater Youth Services exists and that we can play a small part in making their mission successful.