Proud, Happy, Humbled, Energized, and Thankful. All because of a Foster Care Agency Conference.
To say that I was honored to be the Keynote Speaker at the first Annual Foster Care Conference for a prominent organization titled PATH-Idaho would be the understatement of the year.
In Boise, on a picture-perfect weather day with the scenic mountains as a backdrop, and on a Saturday morning none-the-less when most people are home relaxing, (August 10th) Foster Care was the subject of this well attended conference, titled: "Great Challenges Make Great Kids."
I sat in a hotel conference room speaking with about 45 Foster Children, anywhere from age 5, up until about 16-17, about to age out of the system. Yes, there were some horrific accounts from the young people, and even tears from a few (but the way I see things, is I prefer to look at the glass as half full as opposed to half empty). At least the tears were about what was in the young people's past, and with professional counseling help and love and care, it doesn't have to be in their future -- confirming my belief that it doesn't matter where we start at in life, it's where we are going.
These kids were smart, and their pleasant demeanor indicated they may not have been dealt the best hand in life, but that they were going to make the best of it and create promising futures.
Some of the little ones in the room, with million dollar smiles on the faces, preferred to sit in front on the floor with their legs crossed. Patiently raising their hands when I called on them, they told everyone that "their mommy didn't love them." The older kids (even though they are dealing with the real fears of aging out the system and being on their own without much of a support system) immediately got up and out of the chairs to come hug the children and offer reassuring gentle pats on backs.
I could relate to everyone in the room. After all, I am them.
My mother suffered from a mental illness called "Chronic Paranoid Schizophrenic," and after her abuse of me, I too was in Foster Care as a toddler in the NYC system. My mother spent years in and out of State psychiatric institutions from Georgia to New York. She was away so much that as a child, I honestly thought all mothers were like her, and that her absence was normal. Years later, my story would be told in publications like Oprah Winfrey's Magazine, under the headline of "Sexually Abused Men -- Is Your Husband One of Them."
Foster Care Agencies around our great country are to be commended for what they do, day in day out, and they illustrate that sometimes you can learn a lot, not by talking, but by listening, and just observing.
Unfortunately, professional athletes receive all the acclaim in our country, and no disrespect to them, but the real heroes are the professionals saving the lives of children on a daily basis. In Idaho just a few of the great professionals that I had encountered, whether it was Caprice Miller in Idaho Falls for the Child Welfare Agency, or in Boise, Falen LeBlanc, an Independent Living Program Specialist for the Division of Family and Community Services, or the professionals at this conference. Outstanding Americans like PATH CEO William A. Metcalfe and Executive Director Bobbi Geiger. PATH also operates in North Dakota and Minnesota.
These folks are the real heroes. Executive Director Geiger joked with a beautiful smile that her kids in the program didn't recognize her with a business suit on like she wore for the conference. They are used to seeing her fit right in with them. I was amazed as we talked and case by case, just off the top of her memory, she was able to recount details about the children. She is even known to go fishing with them catching Bass, and even took on some of the most difficult cases that other agencies could not handle.
Some members of Executive Director Geiger's team, caseworker Chris Waitley and Lynn Frothinger. It was also great interacting with the President of the PATH Idaho Advisory Board Mr. Frank Sesek.
I also received a fantastic surprise at the conference. A year ago where I was the keynote speaker for the state of Idaho at a Child Abuse conference in Boise, I met a graduate student working on her Master's Degree, Bree Van Leeuwen. Well Bree now has her MSW and works for this same group, PATH Idaho, in their Twin Falls office.
These are all professionals that are modest people. I call them unsung heroes.
People who surely don't do it for the money, as they will never get rich doing what they do, but they are just as happy as the millionaires. In fact, one could make a case, they are happier.
They do what they do because somebody has to step up for the Children. To be a voice for the voiceless. For those of us that can't defend ourselves. Just like social workers step up to help everybody in time of need. I say "ourselves," because 49 years ago, I too couldn't defend myself, and my mother was once institutionalized at a state psychiatric facility for harming me.
I met a remarkable group of Social Workers during a visit to Jackson Mississippi. You can read about it here, because in my heart, as I titled that piece, I know we should all hug a social worker. Please try it. Say thank you, for what you do.
The Foster Parents here at the PATH Idaho Conference were as equally impressive as the children they care for in their homes.
I met other PATH staffers like Pam Shropshire. She reminded me of my own grandmother, Anna Pearl Carter that raised me. Pam, about the same age as my grandmother, has stepped up to raise her own Grandson, and is very proud of the young man.
There was Path Idaho board member Larry Stevens. Mr. Stevens has two foster Children. One is in college and wants to study pre-law. If that doesn't illustrate "each one, teach one," I don't know what does.
To the PATH Idaho family, I say thank you. Thank you for what you do. Thank you for permitting me to leave your conference with a renewed commitment of helping others.
Foster Care equals perseverance!!!
THANK YOU TO ALL THE FOSTER CARE AGENCIES ALL ACROSS OUR GREAT COUNTRY. Please always remember your story is a positive one of saving lives, and your legacy is all about the future of this great country. The children you save today, will grew up to be productive members of society.