May is Foster Care Awareness Month!
Project Foster Dignity is a 501C3 non-profit. Our mission is to equip teen girls in the U.S. Foster Care System with new clothes, restored dignity, and the necessary tools to fashion a vision for their future! We do this through a group mentorship program we call the “Fashion Fellowship.” We have launched this crowdrise campaign to raise funds for one year of operating costs.
Project Foster Dignity was originally created to meet an urgent need in a dignified way - by providing a new wardrobe for teens in the Foster Care System through a shopping trip with “Personal Stylist Mentors." Foster Youth often travel from home to home with little to no personal affects and these belongings are often carried in a garbage bag. The garbage bag is a symbol of the way Foster Youth are made to feel. Disposable.
There are organizations who collect new and gently used clothing for teens in need, however, Project Foster Dignity felt there is a more impactful way to meet this need. One that would also serve as an opportunity to give these young women more support, more love, more everything.
Communities nominated young women who are in the foster care system to become part of the Project Foster Dignity program. Once the young woman had been nominated, she was sent an application where she explained why she wants to be a part of the program. We wanted all the young women to be just as invested, so we want to hear what she hopes to gain from the program.
A UNIQUE FUNDRAISING METHOD:
One challenge we had in raising funds is that, for safety and privacy reasons, we were not able to share photos of the Foster Youth. This has contributed to the “out of sight, out of mind,” mentality toward the Foster Care crisis in America. If you know someone who fosters children, you may notice that the child is not included in family photos on social media. If the Foster Child is present in the photo, the parent may occasionally place a heart over the face to protect the child’s identity.
This challenge became the inspiration for Project Foster Dignity’s “Caricature Campaigns.” We teamed up with Nashville based artist Alicia Maynard who creates caricatures in the likeness of the teens we serve. Those caricatures are used for online fundraising and social media story-telling purposes using the magic that is photoshop ;) We then raised funds for new wardrobes and paired these teens with a "Personal Stylist Mentor" for the day.
BUT WE CAN DO MORE...
Very quickly, we discovered that there was an obvious way to make an even greater impact on their lives - but it would take a lot more work & resources. There are over 54,000 teen girls in the Foster Care System on any given day. For comparative purposes, that is the approximate seating capacity of Nissan Stadium.
We, as a country fail our community, but we continually fail our youth. We do not meet their basic needs and there are serious consequences. Teenagers are the least likely to be adopted out of the Foster Care System & the lack of love and stability has tangible consequences. It is not their job to raise themselves. We are failing these girls and statistics don't lie...
- 60% of youth who are sex trafficked in the U.S. are or were in the Foster Care System
- 1 in 5 foster girls will become homeless after the age of 18 if they age out of the Foster Care System.
- 71% will become pregnant by the age of 21 if they age out of the Foster Care System.
- Less than 3% of foster youth will go on to earn a college degree and only 1/2 will be employed by 24 if they age out of the Foster Care System.
Because a Fostered Teen can be moved out of the state, city or county in which they are currently located, it means they have to rebuild a new home/community with each move, which can be defeating and seem impossible. They become isolated which further exacerbates their vulnerability & drains them of the hope that is necessary to envision a bright future for themselves. We do not want these young women girls in the Foster Care System to feel like they are different from any other teenager. We want them to dream big and also have the adequate tools to make those dreams a reality.
We realize that each of the girls we serve needs more sustainable community to help them grow. They need a lot more than a one-day mentorship shopping experience. After digging, we were shocked to find that virtually no group mentorships exist specifically for teen girls in the Foster Care System. Our motto is that you cannot be what you cannot see. Most of the teens are just one exceptional adult away from a truly transformed life. There is another crucial piece to the equation here though – one that we think we are all missing amid the foster care crisis in America- and that is trusting in the capacity of these young women and to encourage them to come together and support one another. This is why we developed a small-group mentorship program called the “Fashion Fellowship.” This makes our organization like a mix between a "Girl Scouts" program, and a "Big Brother Big Sister's" Program.
Our Fellowship brings all the participants together in small group where they learn practical life guidance to prepare them as they age out of the Foster Care System. At the heart of the mentorship are the quarterly summit workshops. During the workshops, we are working to educate, empower, and love these girls in a way that is tailored to combat one of the 4 pillar statistics you saw above. It is our hope that in bringing these girls together under the same unique life circumstances, they will foster community, empower and support one another to fashion a life with which they can be proud.
We aim to empower these girls through fostering compassion, confidence, and leadership. We want them to understand – I know the world has not been kind to you, you are living in the consequences of other peoples’ actions, that it is not fair, and I am sorry – but I see you, I see the vision for your life, and I want you to see it too.
WHY PROJECT FOSTER DIGNITY:
At the helm of Project Foster Dignity is its founder, Rachael Howarth. Rachael was too a former foster child and understands the vast complexities that accompany a life of someone having spent time in the Foster Care System. We are raising the least successful population in America through the Foster Care System & Rachael has made it her life mission to create a program that effectively changes the perspectives and outlook of teen girls in the system. Nurturing imagination, vision, and a hope for the future are at the core of Project Foster Dignity. Rachael is a “millennial,” and she feels strongly that if systems are broken, like the Foster Care System, it is the task of her generation to design new programs to combat these issues, as opposed to stepping into leadership roles at existing nonprofits.
Being an American is the highest privilege – when you feel that a system is broken or ineffective, you have the right to create an NGO – a nonprofit that operates independently of any government, typically one whose purpose is to address a social issue. To operate as a fully functioning nonprofit, we need money for support staff, to create programs, to fund the girls’ quarterly workshops, and have an office/event space. We elso have dreams of an on-site psychologist for the girls we serve. Running a nonprofit is expensive. It takes money to run programs, operation costs, salaries & benefits. Nonprofits are unique in the fact that they cost money just like any other business to operate, however they have no way to sustainably generate money. Legally, nonprofits cannot generate income, which leaves nonprofits fully dependent on the public and grants to fund their work. For reference, a small nonprofit operating programs for teen girls in one county costs about $120,000 a year.
WHAT CAN YOU DO TO HELP?
In short: share, share, share! If you feel extra ambitious - click the "join" button and be a part of our family - start your own fundraiser to contribute to ours!
We are grateful to live in an era with access to social media that gives us the potential to reach the world with our mission and vision. We ask that you please share and follow along in our journey!
We look forward to having the resources to further our mission in equipping teen girls in the U.S. Foster Care system with the necessary tools to fashion a vision for their future. These are our next generation of women. If we don't lead them, who will?