Sister's Keepers coming through

Posted: May 23, 2014

TURNS OUT we have Sister's Keepers all over the place.

Last week, I wrote about Larbriah Morgan, an inspiring young woman who feared she'd have to quit school and risk homelessness if she didn't find housing before she aged out of the child-welfare system.

After hearing her story at a Stoneleigh Foundation symposium that asked, "What about the girls?" I urged readers to take a page from President Obama's "My Brother's Keeper" initiative for young men of color and become our Sister's Keepers - starting with Morgan.

The next day, I heard the Department of Human Services came through for Morgan by getting her emergency housing for a few months and then federal housing for the next two years.

But even before that good news, you guys were already reaching out in droves. (As I wrote that last sentence, three more emails popped up asking: "What can we do for Larbriah?")

You offered Morgan, a Temple University junior who dreams of going to medical school and becoming an anesthesiologist, your spare couches and bedrooms.

"It's not much, it may not be the cleanest, the nicest or what she deserves, but it is a roof over her head," one reader emailed.

You offered empty apartments in your buildings. "A kid who just wants to get an education sounds like a great investment," another reader emailed.

Most of the offers were from Philly, but a family from Harleysville and another from Wayne said they'd open their homes up to her, too - if she didn't mind the commute: "My husband and I are just your average, hardworking people, but we would love to help."

You offered her a little "walking around" money because "all college kids want a cell phone & pizza."

And even if you had nothing to spare, you wanted to wish her luck and a few prayers.

"I'm just an old man on a fixed income who needs every cent he gets," a reader who nearly brought me to tears called to say. "But you tell her to keep going."

When I told Morgan about the outpouring of offers, she was incredibly grateful. But something seemed to be a little off. Maybe she was overwhelmed, I thought, or nervous that the plans would fall apart. After so many years in the system, I wouldn't blame her if she didn't want to get her hopes too high.

She'd also been going nonstop trying to find housing before she turns 21 next month, making her ineligible for child-welfare benefits. Between that stress, and working her seasonal job at the zoo and as a youth advocate at the Juvenile Law Center's Youth Fostering Change program, maybe she was just tired.

And then right before we said our goodbyes, she said something that explained her reaction: "About all those offers . . . ," she said. "People should know there are a lot of kids in my position, so maybe they can help them?"

I told you, this young lady is something.

"Larbriah is a remarkable young woman," city DHS commissioner Anne Marie Ambrose said. "I am pleased that we have finally secured housing for her, but she shouldn't have had to worry about where she would live once she turned 21. Her plight emphasizes the importance of DHS prioritizing well-being and permanency for older youth in our ongoing efforts to improve outcomes for the children, youth and families the agency serves."

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, an estimated 24,000 foster kids age out of care each year. In Philadelphia, it's about 350 people between ages 18 and 21, according to DHS.

Not surprisingly, the research on what happens to these kids without proper support isn't pretty - they're at higher risk than their peers for homelessness, unemployment, illness, incarceration, and sexual and physical abuse.

That was the reality that tugged at Morgan as she gratefully accepted her recent good fortune.

Systemically there are a lot of things that are happening and that still need to happen to improve the futures of these kids. But those are other columns for other days.

In the meantime, there are things that all of us - Joe from Fishtown, Jackie from Kensington, Maria from South Philly, Helen from Chestnut Hill - can do.

For starters, the Juvenile Law Center suggested that individuals interested in mentoring, tutoring or donating things like supplies and furniture should connect with the Achieving Independence Center on Broad Street.

There's also the Camellia Network, a national network that connects youth aging out of foster care to much-needed resources.

You can also become a foster parent. DHS has made a big push to recruit new foster parents, including increasing pay rates for parents who foster older children.

In the meantime, send donations to Larbriah Morgan, care of Juvenile Law Center, 1315 Walnut St., 4th Floor, Philadelphia, Pa. 19107.

In case you missed it, May is National Foster Care Month.


Phone: 215-854-5943

On Twitter: @NotesFromHel

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