Monday, November 23, 2009

Foster Care Alumni of America Ohio chapter Thanksgiving Reunion 2009

Thanksgiving dinner provided for those who have experienced foster care
Crane, Misti. Columbus Dispatch front page, Nov. 23, 2009.

SHARI LEWIS | Dispatch
Riccardo Rushin, 19, of Canton, talks with his Stark County group at a Thanksgiving dinner in Bexley that drew about 100 Ohioans, many of whom are or have been in foster care. Rushin has lived on his own since he turned 18 and "aged out" of foster care.


They might have nowhere to go Thursday, or somewhere that feels safe but is only temporary.

Young people who've known the hardship of living without family and who've been challenged to find strength despite a shaky foundation found communion yesterday at a meal that came four days before the holiday but embodied its spirit.

Thanksgiving is about family. It's about grace and gratitude.

For foster children and young adults who've moved beyond their temporary homes, family in its conventional sense can be elusive.

About 100 people from across the state, many of whom are in foster care or recently "aged out," as they say, gathered yesterday afternoon at Agudas Achim, a Bexley synagogue.

Thanks to the kindnesses of others and the dogged advocacy of former foster child Lisa Dickson, they found camaraderie and Thanksgiving.

Dickson founded the Ohio chapter of Foster Care Alumni of America. She's 36 and has a family of her own, but she remembers the feeling of isolation that could accompany the holidays, particularly when she was a young adult.

"There wasn't a family to come back to; there weren't those roots," Dickson said.

"For a lot of people, the holidays can be the loneliest part."

In and of itself, being a foster child can be lonely, said Alex McFarland, who is 19 and president of the Ohio youth advisory board. He said it's worse when those outside the situation misunderstand.

"A lot of people have the image that we've done something wrong, when more than likely somebody's done something wrong to us," said McFarland, who lives in a suburb of Dayton.

The dinner was the third-annual -- the first in Columbus -- and was made possible because of a $1,000 donation from Capital University's student government that paid for food. The synagogue gave its space free, said Gabriel Koshinsky, vice president of student government and president of the Jewish Student Union.

The meal yesterday offered an opportunity to meet new people and learn about opportunities for foster children. It also gave guests the chance to reclaim the sense of belonging.

Dre Williams, who is 18 and lives in a foster home, and Kadeem Monroe, who is 19 and on his own, came to Columbus with a group from Stark County.

"I don't know how many days I felt like I was the only foster child in the world," Monroe said.

People who aren't part of the system don't understand the challenges or the emotional burdens or even how foster care works, the two said.

Williams said he wishes more good people would embrace children who can no longer live with their families, and that fewer people would invite foster children into their homes primarily for the money.

He's now living with Jodi Wilson, who has been a foster mom to 14 kids over 17 years. She maintains ties with many of them, and has a warm rapport with Williams.

"These kids are alone, or I believe they feel alone," said Wilson, who also works as supervisor of Stark County's independent-living program.

Bringing them together as a family of sorts is important, Wilson said.

"They have a common language, common experiences," she said.

"I'm 52, and I still talk to my mother every day. They don't have that."

SHARI LEWIS | Dispatch
Lisa Dickson, a former foster child who founded Ohio's chapter of Foster Care Alumni of America, snaps a memory of the event she sought.

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