The Call I Can’t Ignore By Channon Voyce Rise Room Chief Operating Officer April 30, 2019 Do you know what happens when a child in a state foster care program turns 18? Do you even know what that process is called? I didn’t. Of course I had heard of foster care, and I had always admired those who participated as foster parents. I didn’t participate because I wasn’t in a position to; or because, maybe, in reality, I had never even given it any thought. And what’s worse, I had never considered just how difficult the road might be for those kids, or just how much help they might actually need. I guess I just assumed the state program prepared them for whatever lay ahead. I never imagined that for so many of them, that meant a road of poverty, drugs, teen pregnancy, crime, and homelessness. I never imagined that for so many, it meant a life of feeling desperate and alone. The Little-Known Reality When I was approached about joining Rise Room, I quickly learned the answers to those initial questions. When a young woman or young man in a state foster program turns 18, their foster family (if they have one at the time) stops receiving state funds, which usually means no more place to live. It also means limited access to the resources of the foster program, which usually means they are on their own. This is known as “aging out.” That’s what it’s called, as if the teen has merely grown too old to participate on the little league team anymore. But for many of these kids, the process of aging out means more than just moving to a team of larger and faster teammates; it means moving from one team that tried its best to provide some semblance of stability to a child whose own family couldn’t provide for them….to no team at all. They are expected to move into adulthood with no family, no money, and very few options for building those things for themselves. What’s a Kid to Do?When I was 18, I had a part-time job, a truck, and an acceptance letter to a major university. I had a plan to graduate high school, spend some time doing volunteer work in another country, then earn my bachelor’s degree. I never wondered if, at any point during that plan, I would have a roof over my head or if I would get enough to eat. I knew my family’s love and support were never more than a phone call or email away. All of this, all these factors, produced an unquestioned reality for me: I had all the pieces to become whatever I wanted. What I took for granted then is everything missing for these teens now; planning, providing, and loving support. So where does that leave them? The Utah State Department of Human Services did some in-depth research in 2010 into this very question, and here are a few things they found: • The median yearly wage (in 2007) of aged out youth was $4,847. • During the first three years after aging out, only 39.4% attended some form of secondary education. This is only attended, not graduated. • Of those who aged out between 1999 and 2007, 34% have at least one felony or misdemeanor arrest within the first year of aging out. • Since 1999, 14% of those who aged out were diagnosed with a major mental illness. Are these findings surprising? Or shocking? They shouldn’t be given the circumstances, but they certainly were to me. I asked myself how could we, as a society, continue to allow these kids to be set up for almost certain failure? “Go and bring in those people” In 1856 there were four pioneer handcart companies that left Iowa in route to Salt Lake City, UT. All four were caught by early winter storms, forcing them to slow or stop their trek and ration their supplies in an attempt to survive. Quickly, the situation turned bleak. Clothing and tents for shelter were insufficient to withstand the cold, and food rations continued to be cut. Sickness swept through the companies, and every morning they awoke to more who had been taken by death. Brigham Young, then governor of the Utah Territory, received word of the dire situation of the companies and immediately called for teams to set out to save those who were stranded. He unequivocally proclaimed, “Go and bring in those people.” His call to action, and those who answered it, saved hundreds of lives that otherwise would have been lost. I Go, And I Do Not Go Alone Like those who answered the call to save the pioneers, there are many who work diligently to help the youth of today. Foster families, state agencies, and charitable organizations alike give of their time and resources to provide for and protect foster children. But more can be done. I joined Rise Room because I want to help; I want to do my part. I believe that this organization can make a significant difference in the lives of those who have aged out. And I’m not alone. More and more people each day express their desire to help. They offer their time, their resources, their love and support; they answer the call to “go and bring in.” Speaking about the pioneer rescue mission 140 years later, Gordon B. Hinckley said: "I am grateful that those days of pioneering are behind us. I am thankful that we do not have brethren and sisters stranded in the snow, freezing and dying . . . But there are people, not a few, whose circumstances are desperate and who cry out for help and relief . . . .Ours is a great and solemn duty to reach out and help them." It is the call that I could not ignore, and it is my hope that you, too, will answer the call.