ACH Young Adult Arranges Special Celebrations for Peers
In ACH’s LIFE Project, our staff is dedicated to providing care, support, and most importantly, love to the youth in our programs. When we see the youth in our care share that same love with their peers, it’s an especially proud moment for our staff.
K, a young lady in LIFE, took the initiative to plan birthday parties and special celebrations for her peers in the program. When K first arrived in LIFE, the staff threw her a birthday party. She held onto that happy feeling and wanted to be a part of planning those celebrations for the other youth.
“I thought I should do the same for other people to make them feel this good, too,” said K.
K takes the time to meet with staff and plan out all the details. With each celebration, K makes sure to find out what each person likes and the activities they enjoy.
“The older you get, the less you care about your birthday,” said K. “This is their special moment.”
For many of the youth in LIFE, the first birthday they celebrate in the program is the first birthday they’ve ever celebrated.
“Many of our girls come from different backgrounds and have different interests – but these are times that bring us together,” said Cassie Morgan, LIFE Project Mentor. “Watching them use their gifts and contribute is just amazing.”
K’s generosity and hard work also extend to the volunteer mentors who participate in activities with the young adults in LIFE. During volunteer appreciation week, K met with the youth in LIFE and led a project to create gift bags for each mentor.
“It felt good because they always do stuff for us,” said K. “They don’t have to come, and they do. I just wanted to do something special for them.”
What is LIFE?
ACH’s LIFE (Learning Independence from Experience) Project is a program that builds self-confidence and self-sufficiency in young adults ages 18 to 21 who are homeless or are in extended foster care. Young adults who are on their own are given guidance and support in developing life skills—such as applying to college, entering the workforce, and preparing to live independently.
K, a young adult in ACH’s LIFE Project has been throwing birthday parties and celebrations for her peers in the program.
Reflection of Growth
According to ACH Staff Mentor Stephanie Henry, the thoughtfulness and care K has shown to her peers in the LIFE project reflects one of the many leadership skills she has developed at ACH.
“K has grown significantly in the past year since coming to the LIFE program,” said Stephanie. “She has grown in knowledge of cooking, learned how to take better care of herself and how to garden.”
While planning the events is fun for K, her favorite moment is when she reveals the surprise.
“I love seeing their faces,” said K. “They always look so happy, and that makes me happy.”
Support K in creating special moments for the youth in ACH’s LIFE Project, by getting involved at ACH today!
“Last year, I started not knowing much about gardening, and when I leave the LIFE Project, I’ll have so much more knowledge in plant growth and growth within myself.” —Melissa*
ACH Child and Family Services’ Sprouts Gardening Committee is celebrating one year of growth since beginning their journey in ACH’s garden in March of 2020. Despite a few challenges, the group is proud of the work they accomplished and has high hopes for the future.
“I am so excited for a new year to learn more,” said K, one of the young adults in Sprouts.
ACH’s LIFE (Learning Independence from Experience) Project is a program that builds self-confidence and self-sufficiency in young adults ages 18 to 21 who are homeless or are in extended foster care. Young adults are given guidance and support in developing life skills—such as applying to college, entering the workforce, and preparing to live independently.
A SUCCESSFUL YEAR
At the start of the pandemic, young adults in ACH’s LIFE Project program created a volunteer initiative by founding the Sprouts Gardening Committee on our Wichita Street campus.
During such an uncertain time, gardening became a healthy, peaceful activity. For the young adults in our care—many of whom come from a life in foster care or homelessness, gardening brought healing and a sense of belonging, which was incredibly beneficial for them.
“I am excited that we are turning one year old because it shows the dedication to a project, especially during a really hard year both in the world and in everyone’s personal lives,” said Cassie Morgan, LIFE Mentor.
In November, the committee received the Outstanding Youth in Philanthropy award by the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Fort Worth Metro Chapter. This award honored the more than 200 volunteer hours the committee spent in ACH’s garden.
Of all their accomplishments, the biggest blessing of the group was the new friendships that blossomed.
“I am excited because we still have our team together,” said Cole*, Sprouts member. “It’s the same people still sticking together, facing challenges we’ve never faced before.”
Melissa*, one of the young ladies in Sprouts, attributes gardening to helping her develop patience, something she struggled with before.
“I enjoyed watching the plants grow and change while learning more about myself as an individual,” said Melissa. “Last year, I started not knowing much about gardening, and when I leave the LIFE Project, I’ll have so much more knowledge in plant growth and growth within myself.”
The group also learned the hard work necessary for maintaining a garden.
“There is nothing cookie-cutter about gardening,” said Cassie. “We had to find what works best for us and our garden.”
ENTER THE POLAR VORTEX
Sprout’s first year was one for the books. They had some surprises, including the February Texas Winter Storm, which proved to be a valuable teaching moment for the committee.
The group, as with most Texans, was not prepared for such extreme weather. That week, they made their safety a priority and held out hope for the garden.
“We took care of ourselves instead of the plants,” said Cole. “It was frightening and scary, but had high hopes that the garden would survive, and it did… kind of.”
The group was sad to see some plants die but happy to see most of the plants hanging on. To be better prepared, the group formed a Weather Committee within Sprouts to track the local forecast in case of any extreme weather occurrences.
LIFE Mentor Cassie Morgan looks forward to another year of gardening.
Having recovered from the storm, the committee is focused on their surviving crops, which include sea kale, cabbage, rosemary, and some flowers.
“We are excited to grow more this year and build on the skills we learned last year,” said Cassie. “Every time we check on the plants, there is more new growth happening.”
With volunteerism at the heart of the committee, Sprouts would like to open the group up to members of the community who want to volunteer in the garden. The group is even working on creating a resource guide for those future members.
“When we opened the garden, it was kind of difficult,” said Melissa. “When new Sprouts members come in, we want them to know what to expect and how to care for the plants.”
HELP SPROUTS GROW
For the garden to flourish, the Sprouts Gardening Committee needs a helping hand from our community. They are currently asking for in-kind donations that include seeds, plants, soil, and gardening tools. Most importantly, the group needs a wheelbarrow to help transport their supplies across campus.
If you would like to donate to the Sprouts Gardening Committee, click the button below. All donations must be new and unopened and through appointment only.
This week our proud moment is focused on Jayme*, a passionate young woman in ACH’s LIFE Project who displays leadership and found creative ways to utilize her skills in the program.
Jayme recently took the initiative to create a survey for her peers to find out their favorite colors, candy, types of food, etc. She used the survey results to plan a birthday celebration for her friend in the program to include activities, food, beverages, and decorations. The celebration was a huge success!
“We have watched her become more connected to the LIFE Project and are excited for her as she continues to develop her leadership and event planning skills amongst her peers,” said Cassandra Morgan, Jayme’s LIFE Mentor.
*Client’s name has been changed.
Do you have a Proud Moment with a client? Tell us all about it!
Transitioning into adulthood is a challenging time for anyone. The number one factor in helping young people through challenging times is the support of at least one caring adult or ideally, a community of adults, who can provide support and guidance in many ways.
The young adults in ACH’s LIFE Project are facing all the challenges and responsibilities of adulthood on their own. As a result, we must recruit a community of supportive adults who can help them with this major transition. Mentoring does not remove every obstacle but gives them the important knowledge that they are not alone.
Qua’ (far left) chats with a group of mentors from Connections for LIFE during a night out at Alley Cats. (Pre-pandemic)
“Mentoring at ACH gives our young adults a community that walks beside them, through all the ups and downs, to help move them forward,” said Kate Faggella-Luby, ACH’s Volunteer Mentor Coordinator.
ACH’s volunteer mentors are committed individuals who together form a community of support for young adults in LIFE through two groups: Connections for LIFE for the young men; and, Circle of Caring for the young women.
Volunteer mentors participate two to three times per month in fun group activities with the young adults and other volunteers to build connections and provide a sense of belonging for them,” said Kate.
Before the pandemic, the groups would get together to cook a meal, play a game outside, or leave campus to visit a museum or see a movie. They also celebrate birthdays, graduations, and other big accomplishments. In the past year, they’ve shifted their activities to Zoom, with some socially distanced events.
Volunteer Mentors celebrate milestones with the young adults in LIFE, including graduations as seen here in 2019.
Qua’ has been a part of the LIFE Project since July 2018 and he’s actively participated with the volunteer mentors.
“Connections for LIFE was the highlight of my time at ACH,” said Qua’. “They gave us opportunities and resources, and just having dinner and interacting with them was engaging and fun.”
Qua’ met his mentor, Dennis, last year and the two bonded over stand-up comedy and rap music.
“He’s old-school and I’m new school,” laughed Qua’.
It wasn’t long before Qua’ began to open up to Dennis and the pair grew closer.
“I try to give them the sense of being wanted and appreciated,” said Dennis. “I try to guide Qua’ the same way I do my own son.”
For Qua’, Dennis became the first male role model he ever had, and one of the first adults to make him feel seen and heard. Experiencing years of emotional abuse made him feel ignored and abandoned, which made it hard for him to develop a connection with trusting adults.
That changed with Connections for LIFE.
“Getting the chance to know all these volunteers is definitely a milestone in my development,” said Qua’.
Dennis believes that taking a vested interest in these young adults creates a much larger impact in the long run, for both them and the community.
“They’ve never had anybody take a vested interest in them or care about them, so when you show them that, they know how to give that love and care back into the world.”
Qua’ encourages other young adults in LIFE to get the most they can out of the mentorships.
“Without those friends, those bonds, and those connections, you’re not going to make it very far,” said Qua’. “It’s good to know that you’re appreciated every once in a while, and that there are people you can depend on.”
That’s what Kate wishes all young adults in LIFE receive from the volunteer mentors.
“The fact that the mentoring group shows up for them time and again, sends a message that they matter, that they have something to offer, and that the world can be a safe and good place for them,” said Kate. “That sense of belonging, of receiving and giving support, is what I hope they take away from the experience.”
Qua’ will soon graduate from the LIFE Project and venture out on his own, but he and Dennis still have plans to remain close. For Dennis, the most rewarding part of the mentorship will be getting to see Qua’ “spread his wings and fly.”
For many young adults, juggling a job and going to college can be incredibly difficult. Imagine how much harder it would be if you were given an unfair start into adulthood. The young adults in ACH’s LIFE Project come into the program with backgrounds in foster care or homelessness. Oftentimes, ACH becomes a safety net for them, creating a positive environment where their accomplishments and milestones are celebrated—as any family would do.
ACH is so proud of 18-year-old Karrington, who recently reached her six-month anniversary at her first job. She also earned a promotion! Working at In-N-Out Burger is an incredibly stressful, fast-paced job—and balancing this while being a college student is no easy feat.
ACH’S LIFE PROJECT IS HERE TO HELP THESE YOUNG ADULTS COMING FROM ROUGH SITUATIONS BY PROVIDING THEM WITH THE TOOLS AND SKILLS THEY NEED TO NAVIGATE ADULTHOOD. PART OF BECOMING AN ADULT INCLUDES MILESTONES, LIKE GETTING YOUR FIRST JOB OR LEARNING HOW TO DRIVE, AND WHEN THOSE THINGS HAPPEN, WE CELEBRATE.
“With everything that is going on with the coronavirus, it is definitely a job that is intense,” Karrington shared. “It felt like a huge accomplishment when they told me I was promoted.”
Volunteer Mentor Coordinator Kate Faggella-Luby spends a lot of time with the young adults. She mentioned how important it is that big milestones like these are affirmed for the young adults in LIFE because of how hard they work to become independent, self-sufficient adults.
“Part of what families do is build celebrations and memories that become part of our identity. Because these young adults are already on their own, it’s up to us to help celebrate and encourage all the positive things in their lives,” said Kate.
As a way to honor this milestone, LIFE Project mentors threw Karrington a fun-filled celebration. They gathered on Zoom and played a trivia game through Kahoot! During the celebration, Karrington was presented with a certificate of achievement.
“It felt really nice to have people celebrate the fact that I’m working hard,” she said.
Afterward, volunteer mentors shared experiences, funny stories, and advice from their first jobs—it became a great way for the young adults to connect.
“It is a real privilege for our volunteers and staff to celebrate the progress and hard work of these young adults,” Kate added. “It makes all of us feel good to take a minute and recognize good things happening in the world.”
Stay tuned in our blog as we celebrate many more milestones with the young adults in the LIFE Project!
ACH is especially grateful for the continued support of the Holloway Family Foundation, which helps fund volunteer mentoring programs for our LIFE Project.
When Jane* entered ACH’s LIFE Project last year, she was determined to build a better life for herself. Even after years of abuse from her mother, Jane was ready for a new start.
Things took a turn for Jane when the pandemic started, and she began to struggle with old wounds. These challenges brought her to a deeper understanding of herself and the trauma she went through. She started taking more time to focus on her mental and emotional health, and has found mindfulness and exercise to be hugely beneficial to her.
“Jane went through a huge transformation in the last year in setting healthier boundaries for herself and developing a more positive outlook for herself,” said LIFE Mentor Cassandra Morgan.
Jane recently shared with staff that she now recognizes the abuse for what it was, and is more aware of all the pain she had bottled up. She’s more optimistic about her future than ever before and feels she is no longer hindered by the abuse from her past.
“I am so proud of her for coming to a place where she can acknowledge the abuse and experience freedom from the lies she had believed for so long,” said Cassandra. “Hearing her talk now, there is a deep conviction and determination of someone who has survived deep pain and who wants to inspire others in their journey towards healing too.”
*Client’s name has been changed for this story.
Do you have a Proud Moment with a client? Tell us all about it!
During the stressful times of COVID-19, the Sprouts Gardening Committee—formed by young adults in the LIFE Project Program—has become a healthy outlet and opportunity for personal growth.
When shelter in place orders took effect in Tarrant County, this meant many of the young adults had to put plans for their future on hold, like going to job interviews. They were faced with uncomfortable uncertainties, and the garden became a way for the young adults to relieve their frustrations by giving back and volunteering their time. While spending time in the garden, they are able to put their worries aside and focus on the plants they are caring for.
Gardening brings about healing and a sense of belonging, which is incredibly beneficial for the young adults in our care—many of whom come from a life in foster care or homelessness. Cultivating the garden, feeling connected to nature and each other, and focusing on the growth of a plant, helps build their self-confidence.
More than anything, taking the time to learn different gardening techniques, and skills promotes self-efficacy—the ability to feel empowered and in control of a productive project— within the young adults. This growing confidence is what ACH seeks to implement within all the youth we serve.
For Alex, Sprouts Gardening Committee member, the garden has shown her and the other members that if they encourage themselves, and believe they can achieve a goal, they will.
“We want this to succeed,” said Alex. “Even if it gets challenging and there are a lot of obstacles, you have to keep pushing through.”
Digging for a Deep Meaning to Gardening
The Sprouts Gardening Committee, or Sprouts for short, is digging deeper. They’ve been working on growing more plants, utilizing garden techniques, and turning every step of the way into a chance to learn.
Sprouts meets every Thursday afternoon for a learning session and discussion. “Conversations on gardening often lead to addressing life skills that are important for personal growth,” said Cassie Morgan, a LIFE Project mentor and Sprouts Gardening Committee leader.
One of these discussions included how plants can form bonds, just like us.
“We discussed several techniques related to companion gardening and which plants grow best together,” said Cassie. “This opened up conversations to discuss how we need healthy friendships and relationships to really grow well and it gave us the opportunity to talk about what a good friend looks like.”
During a conversation about removing weeds from the garden, Sprouts also talked about unhealthy relationships and the effects they can have on our life.
“We also discussed how to set up healthy boundaries and how to keep toxic people from hurting us,” said Cassie.
Cultivating the Garden Club
The LIFE Project is a supervised independent living program here at ACH that promotes self-sufficiency in young adults, ages 18-21, who are homeless or are in extended foster care.
The Sprouts Gardening Committee was formed in April after Alex and a few other members of the LIFE Project noticed that the Wichita garden, created by volunteers, need a little TLC.
Alex had only planted a few seedlings at the time, but with encouragement from Cassie, and LIFE Project mentor Stephanie Henry, she decided to take on the task of maintaining and caring for the campus garden.
“They apparently think I have a green thumb,” Alex joked.
From there, the Sprouts Gardening Committee was formed with Alex and a few other young adults from the LIFE Project, who wanted to volunteer their time to add more beauty to the campus. In April alone, the committee volunteered a total of 27 hours!
“The first thing that caught me off guard was the more people that wanted to join the committee and join this journey,” said Alex. “That was very surprising, especially from some of the boys.”
RTC Lends a Helping Hand
The Residential Treatment Center (RTC) helps vulnerable youth ages 13-17 in the foster care system who need time away from home to heal from trauma and rebuild trust in adults.
The committee itself is growing too. Young adults from ACH’s Residential Treatment Center are going to start getting involved, thanks to Alex. Richard Capodagli, Director of the RTC, saw our previous blog on Sprouts and asked Alex if the RTC youth could join the committee. Alex and the committee were more than happy for more members!
Youth in the RTC are often dealing with overwhelming emotions from past trauma, and the healing benefits from gardening will be helpful in their journey here at ACH.
“We definitely hope that it can inspire other groups to get involved,” said Cassie. “We want to partner with more groups on campus to make it a success.”
Alex is excited to see how the garden turns out and hopes that everyone at ACH will be able to benefit from it.
“It may not be blossoming as much as we want it to, but at least the garden is something that we worked hard for, and that’s enough for me,” she said. “It’s amazing to know that gardening will help us in the future, and we can always regrow, and flourish even more.”
The group does have an overall goal of arranging flowers they’ve grown to form the letters ACH, as well as adding colorful bricks, and a birdbath to beautify the garden.
“We just want to make it something we worked for and were proud of and other people can see it and get inspired too,” she said.
However, Alex said there is one other thing she had hopes to see come from the garden.
And it happened!
Help Sprouts Grow!
The Sprouts Gardening Committee needs help from our community to continue flourishing!
We are currently asking for in-kind donations that include seeds, plants, soil, and gardening tools. For the safety of our clients, all donations must be new and unopened and through appointment only.
We all know entering adulthood can be difficult. But becoming an adult after growing up in the care of Child Protective Services (CPS), comes with a whole set of other challenges. Despite that, Justin continues to persevere with the help of ACH’s LIFE Project, a Supervised Independent Living program.
Youth aging out of the foster care system are often overlooked. These children come from hard places, like Justin, and are expected to face adulthood without a support system.
“That’s something your typical young adult doesn’t have to worry about,” said Transitions Program Manager, Nick Little. “This population needs caring adults in their lives as well.”
Justin reflected on his past foster homes and what he needed to prepare for adulthood.
“I’ve seen the difference between a home where the parents care about helping kids and others where you’re just in the house, doing your own thing,” said Justin.
The LIFE Project offers support and guidance for foster youth ages 18-21. The program assists them with finding and maintaining employment, enrolling in school, learning how to create structure for themselves, and other necessary adulthood skills.
“We help them get used to thinking about all this on their own,” Nick adds, “But it’s also learning the more difficult concepts, like how to have appropriate relationships.”
The LIFE Project helps community clients as well, who find themselves homeless or couch surfing, with really no place to go. But most clients are young adults who decided to stay in extended foster care after turning 18.
Since joining The LIFE Project, Justin thinks about how far he’s come with the help of staff mentors like Thad McCall.
“Mr. Thad found out I didn’t have an I.D., so I wasn’t able to get any jobs. Within two weeks of being here, he made sure I had one,” he recalled. “I’m legally an adult. He could’ve told me to figure it out on my own, but he didn’t, and I just really appreciated that.”
Justin believes the LIFE Project has allowed him to see how much he can succeed and plan where he wants to be, not just months from now but years down the line. He hopes one day to become self-sufficient as an entrepreneur and have the family of his dreams.
May is National Foster Care Month. Learn more about the foster youth we serve in our podcast. If you like what you hear, please be sure to rate and review. You can advocate for young adults like Justin by sharing this podcast with a friend.
Hear Justin’s full story here:
ACH Child and Family Services 3712 Wichita Street Fort Worth, Texas 76119
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