Studies indicate that only 2-3% of foster children nationwide who “age out” of their state-supported foster care system at age 18 go to college. More than 25% end up homeless or incarcerated within two years. This fall, four youth from Orleans Parish who are aging out of foster care will be heading off to college in spite of the odds thanks in large part to their participation in BeREAL.
BeREAL addresses the aging out problem, a national phenomenon, by providing mentoring and funding for education and career goals. Launched in August 2009, BeREAL currently serves 18 young adults from their home base in East New Orleans. The difference the mentors are making in the lives of these vulnerable members of society is amazing and inspiring.
Last week, BeREAL participants, their mentors, partner agencies like the Dept. of Children and Family Services and the Greater New Orleans Foster & Adoptive Parents Association, the Beaumont Foundation of America, community leaders and program executives all gathered to celebrate the Back-To-School season family-style with a Jambalaya dinner and home-brewed entertainment (see the Louisiana Moonwalk in the above video and read the poem shared below!) BeREAL youth shared their creative talents with an audience of nearly 100. All children and youth in attendance received backpacks filled with school supplies, thanks to many generous donations.
BeREAL was born in August of 2009 so it was a good opportunity to see how far the program and its participants have come in a short time. Based in the gymnasium of the historic Bethlehem Children’s Center, which was largely destroyed 5 years ago during the Hurricane Katrina disaster, BeREAL started initially with 10 participants and 1 Transition Coach and has grown to 18 participants, 2 Transition Coaches, 4 mentors, 5 Gap Team volunteers, with plans to expand!
Here is a poem written and reprinted with permission by a BeREAL participant:
I feel a flutter in my soul.
My heart is recovering from the hole
That lay agape for so long
Because everything was going wrong.
I felt so weak
I couldn’t speak
At night it was hard for me to sleep.
So I prayed to God everyday
To make the pain go away
I waited, but first had no answer
So I gave up on God, I wanted one faster.
One day God sent me a sign
Don’t worry my child, everything will be fine
I closed my eyes, and again I pray
Please God don’t go away.