23 Nov Hope but No Home for the Holidays
Most of us look forward to the holidays with delight. This time of year means sharing happy times with family and friends. But for many young adults who have come out of foster care, and older teens in foster care, the holidays are a painful reminder of their lack of relationships. When Sam Bracken — whose story is told in our book “My Orange Duffel Bag” (www.MyOrangeDuffelBag.com) — came to Georgia Tech to play football and get an education, he was homeless. Every college break he struggled with the worry of where he would eat and sleep.
I was shocked to learn that 30 years later, the elite 3% of all kids who have been in foster care and manage to make it to college as well as homeless youth are still facing the same problem. When colleges close dorms and cafeterias, these students who have overcome unbelievable odds are left to fend for themselves once more. Last year about a month before Thanksgiving, Carl Danbury, the publisher of “Points North” magazine, was interviewing me about what the Orange Duffel Bag Foundation (www.ODBF.org) is doing to help older kids in foster care and homeless youth to further their education. I gave this situation as one example of the sort of barriers to success that our kids face and that I believe we as a community of caring adults should be able to resolve.
By the time I got back to my office, an email was waiting for me with the momentous news that Chateau Elan Winery & Resort had agreed to host up to 20 young people in Georgia who were in college but had nowhere to go for the Thanksgiving holiday. Zooma Atlanta, which was being held at the resort, had already named ODBF its charity racing partner, and I was running there that weekend. Everything fell into place.
We ended up with 16 young people at Holidays of Hope who are in college but would have been alone or homeless over the holiday break because they came from foster care. The resort took care of everything for six days. Delta helped get one young lady back to Georgia from the university she attends in Miami. The first night two of the young women shared that the prior Thanksgiving they had spent alone in their respective dorm rooms. One had dined on a bowl of white rice; the other, popcorn. Another young man told those gathered that he’d never gotten to celebrate Thanksgiving before. He was 19. Much of my own family also joined us for Holidays of Hope along with Carl Danbury and his family. My brother Kevin Montgomery, who is one of ODBF’s national spokespersons, came to perform a free concert that Friday night. Bill Liss of 11 Alive News arranged for Tanger Outlets to present every one of the young people attending with a $100 gift card so that they could get something for the holidays.
I pray that by next holiday season we will have something figured out where kids in that position will all have families or at least hotels in which to spend college breaks. Together we can make a difference.
Here’s an article by journalist Mickey Goodman about the event: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/