Brown bags help plant seeds, foster growth
For young people like Patrick Kenwabikise the lessons learned in the Elements program offered through Child & Family Services and the SEEDS Youth Corps program are preparing him to live independently.
Kenwabikise, of Empire, has been in foster care since 2006, though he recently turned 18.
At that young people are no longer under the aegis of Child & Family Services, which runs the foster care program in 15 counties, including Leelanau.
But while children and teens in foster care have basic needs taken care of, they also need school supplies, funding for transportation, and for fun things like music or dance lessons and summer camp.
That’s where the Brown Bag Campaign comes in. Inside this week’s Enterprise readers will see a brown paper bag that is meant to remind them of the needs of children who have been placed in foster care. It’s also an envelope for people who would like to make a donation to the Child & Family Services 23rd annual Brown Bag Campaign, which has raised a total of $225,000 in past years.
“This is really for the extras,” said Gina Aranki, director of marketing and public relations for the organization. “We feel that what people call ‘the extras’ are as important to kids as food, clothing and shelter.”
The Brown Bag Campaign has another purpose, Aranki said.
“It’s a reminder for those folks who may have thought about becoming foster parents to go ahead and make that call and find out if it could be a good fit for them and their families, because the need is there.”
But older children in foster care often need more. Kenwabikise is part of a SEEDS Youth Corps team of young people that has been working all summer to remove the invasive Black Locust trees and baby’s breath from the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, as well replacing drywall and painting at the Thoreson farmhouse in the Port Oneida Rural Historic District. This week they were installing water bars on a trail at the Whaleback Natural Area in Leland.
All of the teens are foster children who will soon ‘age out’ of the foster care program as they turn 18 over the next couple of years. They got involved in the SEEDS program as part of the Child and Family Services Elements program, which teaches them some of the skills they will need as they start living independently, skills such as managing a banking account, applying for student grants and loans, getting an apartment and applying for jobs.
Kenwabikise, who still lives with his foster parents, graduated from Glen Lake High School this year and will begin a stint with the U.S. Army on Sept. 10.
“These kids have been all over in four counties this summer,” said Bill Watson, director of youth development for SEEDS, which was started last summer and is partially funded by Child & Family Services.
Doing the work has given the teens, who work about 32 hours per week, real life experience in several areas, Watson said, including filling out job applications and being interviewed for a job.
“They need to have good work ethics,” he said. “They need to be there on time, working under some pretty harsh conditions, especially this summer with the heat.”
They also learn how to talk to various groups of people such as park officials, conservancy volunteers and the public, and to present themselves in a way that is professional and appropriate, he said.
“It’s important for them to learn good behavior and how to interact with the public,” Watson said.
Greg Worgess, 17, says the Elements program has taught him social skills, as well as how to budget and getting prepared for job interviews.
“I’ve been prepared,” said Worgess, a Traverse City senior. “They help us out a lot.”
Worgess plans to go to boat-building school in Cedarville in the Upper Peninsula when he graduates.
Bethany Allen, 15, has been working with the Youth Corps all summer. An Elk Rapids sophomore, Bethany has been in foster care for a little more than a year.
“I have everything planned for when I get out,” said Allen, who plans to go to Michigan State University to pursue a career in law enforcement.
Children end up in foster care because of abuse, neglect, or delinquency, and range in age from newborns to age 18. Child and Family Services averages about 110 children a day in out-of-home placement. For information on how to become a licensed foster or adoptive parent, call Child and Family Services at 231-946-8975.