Few things make us feel better than finding the perfect gift. The thrill of the hunt is perhaps the most enjoyable part of a successful shopping expedition. This is the time of year for exchanging gifts with friends and family, so let the shopping begin! The holiday season is also a time to gather with friends and family, as well as a time of reflection and appreciation. Many of us feel happy and content this holiday season, surrounded by friends, family and a sense of community, but not everyone is similarly situated. As we reflect on all of the good in our lives, let us consider others who are less fortunate.

I recently attended an event to support young adults who have “aged out” of the foster care system. I was shocked to learn how the system works. Upon a child’s 18th birthday, they are released from foster care and the corresponding safety net surrounding them. While independence may seem like a teenager’s dream, few are financially capable of securing and maintaining a home and necessities, such as food, electricity, gas, insurance, and clothing.

Each year between 600 and 800 young adults age out of foster care in New Jersey. A foster care child must leave their home regardless of their ability to support themselves. The reality is that some of these kids will become a statistic; they will become homeless. The statistics are mind-boggling. According to “Roots and Wings “(see below), a foster child can live in 10 to 15 homes before the age of 18. By age 23, only 25% of foster children will have finished high school, 40% will still be homeless, 50% will be unemployed, and 25% will be in jail. For many of these kids, the odds are stacked against them due to the uncertainty they experienced as children. Most have been in and out of foster care and have not had a stable home life (these are the children I discussed in my article entitled “A.C.E.S., adverse childhood experiences). 

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To achieve success, children need guidance and support from caring adults who can teach them the skills necessary to move into adulthood, many of which they may have missed from lack of having attentive and engaged caregivers. They need to have a safe place to live, to have and their education, and opportunities. Internships provide valuable work experience and can lead to successful job placement. These tools and aids can help replace dependency with self-sufficiency. Those benefiting from such support and tools have achieved life-changing results: 86% have their GED or high school equivalency certificate, 90% have earned either a two or four-year college degree or a vocational certificate, and 100% are employed. Additionally, 100% can transition to stable and safe housing.

The organization “Roots and Wings” provides safe housing, tutoring, life skills, intensive counseling and more. The difference this organization makes is significant and life-changing for those it serves, but the waitlist is long. Although the gift of giving can be very satisfying, some gifts have a greater impact than others. This holiday season, if giving is in your plans, please consider this worthy organization. You can truly change a life. For more information, please go to www.RootsandWingsNJ.org.

Lisa Smith, M.A. DEVM, Teacher’s College Columbia University, is an Educational Consultant specializing in customized workshops supporting child development through play. Ms. Smith is also an Adjunct Professor of Psychology.