FOSTERING COMMUNITY blog
orDINARY PEOPLE MAKING AN EXTRAORDINARY DIFFERENCE
orDINARY PEOPLE MAKING AN EXTRAORDINARY DIFFERENCE
It is a harsh reality that foster care is connected with so many other social issues of today - one of which is human trafficking.
Human trafficking is a market-driven, global industry that generates hundreds of billions of dollars in profits. It is a form of modern-day slavery when someone is exploited through force, fraud or coercion for the economic gain of another, in the form of:
Not all those who are trafficked are physically forced - in fact, most human trafficking occurs through psychological coercion, tricking, manipulation, or threats. This criminal industry affects every type of community across the country and is present amongst various ages, ethnicities and socio-economic backgrounds; however, according to the Polaris Project, roughly two-thirds of reported survivors in 2018 were women and girls. According to the nonprofit organization Children at Risk, Texas is a leading hub for human trafficking, which spans across all of our major cities and even exists in some of the wealthiest neighborhoods.
reports show that roughly 60% of trafficking victims here in the united states have a history
If we want to support the end of human trafficking, we MUST support children in foster care. Two of the top five reasons for human trafficking are due to 1) unstable housing and 2) runaway or homeless youth - both of which are common circumstances for youth in foster care. Traffickers will seek out and groom those who are most vulnerable. And because children in foster care often lack consistent support and a watchful eye, they can fall prey to tricks and manipulations by predators.
Voices for Children explains, "The trafficker will play on the vulnerability exposed by their victim to gain power and ensure loyalty. According to the Department of Justice, most often, victims fall prey to traffickers who lure them in with an offer of attention, food, clothes, a safe place to sleep, friendship, and love. During the process known as grooming, the trafficker’s goal will be to gain the victim’s trust, provide for the victim’s needs, and isolate them. The grooming process can be lengthy, as it involves earning the victim’s trust. Many foster children have experienced a lack of trusted caring adults in their life; however, pimps are willing to put in the work, as the child will serve as a financial payout for them in the future. Once the trafficker feels they have successfully made the victim dependent on them, they will manipulate or directly force the victim into prostitution. They will often use violence to retain control. With the rapid growth of digital technology, traffickers now heavily rely on social media to recruit and start the grooming process."
At Houston Angels, we know that young people who have grown up in the foster care system have received less financial, emotional, and social support than their peers, are less prepared for life after foster care, and are more likely to fall victim to life-threatening situations such as human trafficking, homelessness, incarceration or suicide. This is why our Dare to Dream Program was created to help local youth in foster care navigate life's challenges and provide them with one more healthy adult to call. Our volunteer mentors provide wisdom, advice, encouragement, and community that help empower and guide our youth towards a healthy, happy and thriving adulthood. We tell mentors that the simple act of telling their youth “I believe in you,” or answering the phone when times get hard, can change their path completely - and hopefully avoid these statistics that plague our system. Our children deserve better than this.
For more information about how you can support a youth in foster care, please visit www.houangels.org/daretodream. Click on any of the links below to learn more about the human trafficking crisis.
Jonathan grew up in West Palm Beach FL and central New Jersey, and several years ago moved with his wife and two young children (babies at the time!) to Houston. After graduating from Rutgers University with a degree in mechanical engineering, he has spent the past decade working in the oil and gas industry, learning many different sides of the business - including planning capital projects, managing turnarounds and maintenance services out in the field at the refineries, procurement, category management and more.⠀
Although he just officially joined the board this past month, Jonathan has been supporting Houston Angels behind the scenes since its early days. When his wife, Melissa, took on the role as President back in 2018, he did not have any prior experience with or knowledge of the foster care system. But as Houston Angels became an official chapter of the national organization and continued to grow, he learned all about the need for this work and enjoyed being a part of the impact, including being a part of a Love Box Group and volunteering during events and projects.⠀
He is excited to officially join the Board as part of the finance team, and play a more direct role in ensuring the organization remains in great financial and operational standing.
Tiffany has been helping Houston Angels behind the scenes since February, and officially joined our Board of Directors last month. A little more about her:
Tiffany grew up outside of Pittsburgh (Go Steelers!!) and attended Youngstown State University where she studied social work. After swearing she would never move too far from Pittsburgh, her husband was transferred to Houston where they now live with their two small sons.
Tiffany first entered into social work with a desire to work with children. After first working in an outpatient oncology setting as well as with older adults, her path eventually led her back to working with kids, providing therapy in elementary schools through a satellite program. During her time in the schools, she was able to work with children of all backgrounds, along with their families and school staff. She felt that very few things compared to being able to develop a rapport with a child in need, and knowing the positive impact you are making in that child's life.
After moving to Houston, Tiffany soon found out about Houston Angels through the President, Melissa. The more she learned about the organization the more she knew she had found her place. She is so excited to once again work with children as well as their caregivers, and assist an organization that can make a very real difference in the lives of so many.
We've had so many new followers join us lately (we're so thankful you're here!) so we thought we'd reintroduce ourselves!⠀
Houston Angels is the local chapter of a national nonprofit organization called National Angels, which was was created to support families and children experiencing foster care.⠀
We know that foster care is HARD - on the children who are placed in the system as a result of abuse/neglect at home, on the caregivers who open up their homes to them, and on the biological families being separated. We know that children in foster care are of the most vulnerable children in our population, and often fall victim to homelessness, human trafficking, incarceration, struggles with mental health, and more.⠀
The National Angels organization started as volunteer groups throwing fun service events and extracurricular activities for children in foster care. Over time, support for foster care became less about the one-time activities and gifts (which still have their time and place)... and more about the real bonds that were forming. It was about the lives being changed as a result of community, consistency, and intentionality.⠀
What started as a single chapter in Austin, TX quickly grew into a national organization with chapters opening up in major cities like DFW, Cleveland, Seattle, Houston and more all across the country. These chapters are building communities of people that walk alongside foster families and youth in their normal, everyday lives. These communities are providing much needed wrap-around support - intentional gifts, healthy relationships, mentorship, resources, emergency support and more - for kids in foster care as well as families who care for them.
love box program
The Love Box Program was created to provide our local foster care community with consistent, customized and holistic support. Our Love Box volunteers are everyday people from the Houston community, who are matched with foster families based on zip code and compatibility. These volunteers help meet practical, financial and emotional needs for the entire family.⠀
Our "Love Box" may LOOK like a traditional cardboard box, but this program is so much more than a box of stuff - it’s about relationships, connection and support.⠀
Depending on the family's needs, Love Box support could be a box filled with practical items like groceries, paper products, seasonal activities, special treats, etc. But Love Box support could also look like volunteers offering to babysit, tutoring or helping with homework, planning a child's birthday celebration, or even chipping in for a new washing machine (which has happened twice already!)⠀
And even in the midst of today's social distancing, our volunteers are still supporting their families through porch drop offs, grocery shopping, submitting online orders, sending activities for kiddos, and communicating via Zoom, FaceTime, or texts.⠀
You've heard us say that foster care is HARD. But we know that if we can wrap community support around foster families, we have a much better chance at ➡️ increasing the families' overall sense of normalcy ➡️ helping caregivers feel equipped to continue this hard work ➡️ establishing much-needed stability and relational permanency for children in foster care ➡️ steering them away from negative outcomes, and creating more opportunities for their health, happiness and thriving ✨⠀
dare to dream program
Youth who age out of the foster care system at 18 are often expected to be just as self-sufficient as their peers. But the absence of parental guidance and emotional support hinders the ability for any youth to flourish in the world -- and this is especially true for kids who have grown up in foster care.⠀
The constant lack of support and resources, combined with the multiple traumas these youth have experienced throughout their lives, greatly affects their success and well-being upon aging out. This is why youth in foster care are more likely than their peers to struggle with mental health, drop out of high school, not attend college, become homeless or incarcerated, or pregnant as a teenager.
what you can do
Our waitlists have been growing rapidly, and there is a clear need for additional community support for our city's foster families and youth. Sign up to receive our emails and follow us on social media to stay in the loop about current needs and volunteer opportunities.
Not everyone is called to foster or adopt, but everyone can play a role in this mission. And we hope you'll join us!
Foster care is a temporary service provided by the state for children who are removed from their homes due to child abuse or neglect.
According to the Department of Family and Protective Services, there were 14,137 children across the Greater Houston Area that were removed from their homes and put into foster care in 2019. Let's break this down further:
Children Served Per Texas Region:
Children Served Per Houston County:
Children Served in Greater Houston By:
So how do these statistics impact our work?
1) Race/Ethnicity: We know that Houston is one of the most populated, diverse cities in the entire country, and these numbers certainly reflect that diversity as well. As a chapter, we acknowledge and celebrate the fact that the people and children we serve through our mission come from different races and ethnicities. As the Black Lives Matter movement spread across the country, we couldn't help but think of the many kids in foster care who are people of color, who have grown up in systems that have failed and are still failing them. We know that so many of the children in foster care will become homeless, poor, or incarcerated. Kids who grow up in the foster care system are starting 10 steps behind... add additional steps if they are of color and face the challenges of systemic racism as well. Our organization is dedicated to ensuring these kids do not continue to be held back by a broken foster care system, racism, or other forms of oppression. Houston Angels will always support action that enables our children to be heard and have equal opportunities to thrive, and our team will to continue learning more about what the people we serve actually need, from a variety of angles: socioeconomic, cultural, physical and mental health, and more. The solution is complex, and ALL of these things affect the outcome.
2) Age: These numbers also tell us that almost 40% of kids are pre-teens and teenagers, which is a crucial time in a child's life. Youth who age out of the foster care system at 18 are often expected to be just as self-sufficient as their peers, but have not received nearly as much (if any at all) parental guidance and emotional support. A constant lack of support and resources, combined with the multiple traumas these youth have experienced, greatly affects their success and well-being in life upon aging out. And youth in foster care are more likely than their peers to struggle with mental health, drop out of high school, not attend college, become homeless or incarcerated. This is why our Dare to Dream and Dare to Dream Jr programs match pre-teens and teens with healthy adults who will help them navigate life's challenges and prepare them for adulthood. Our mentors are advocates, teachers, guides, role models, valued friends, and available resources for these kids to count on during such an important time of their lives.
3) Gender: Lastly, we know from these numbers that half of all children in foster care are female. Studies have shown that a variety of factors put foster youth at risk of becoming pregnant, including a lack of supportive and loving relationships, constant instability, and stressful or traumatic situations such as child abuse or neglect. Studies have shown the following to be true:
While the above statistics may feel overwhelming, supporting foster care is not all-or-nothing. Start with one child, or one family, in your community. Our organization has seen that through consistent intentional giving, healthy relationships, and mentorship, it IS possible to change the trajectories of these children's lives. The reality is that we ALL can play some sort of role in changing a child's life forever, and the ripple effects will change our community.
“Every kid is one caring adult away from being a success story.” - Josh Shipp
Sarah, Love Box Leader
"WE’VE BEEN MATCHED! I know what you’re thinking ... 'for what?!'
We’ve just been officially approved through Houston Angels to support a local foster family with love, consistency and community over the next year. A month long process of background checks and trainings and introductions is complete and we’re so excited to share with our friends and family!
Last month was National Foster Care Month, and we started learning about how deeply intertwined the foster care system is with other social issues like human trafficking, homelessness, incarceration, poverty, low education and teen pregnancy. We may not be in a position just yet to open our own home but with extra time on our hands recently and after months of searching, we’ve found the population our hearts have a deep desire to serve and are hopeful we can really make an impact!
But speaking of making an impact, y’all taught me a few months ago with our $500 donation to Houston Food Bank that alone Stephen and I can make a ripple but together, we can really make a wave! Which brings me to the next obvious question - 'why are you sharing and what can we do?'
1. PRAY FOR US - that we may find the right words and do the right things to be the support this family so desperately needs
2. CONSIDER VOLUNTEERING - recent events have dramatically increased the needs of the local Foster Care community and Houston Angels are in search of volunteers. They do incredible work, make the process so easy and the smallest commitment could make the biggest difference in the life of a traumatized child. At the very least, maybe go check out this beautiful mural they just commissioned in Downtown to help raise some awareness! #BeAHoustonAngel
3. WATCH FOR MORE - fostering and volunteering isn’t for everyone but later this week I’ll share more about our foster family and how we plan to support them and how you can help in super small ways, if you’d like to!
We love y’all and when the “job description” suggested having a strong network of family and friends to leverage for maximum support, we knew it was the perfect fit! Y’all are the best and we have so much more to come! XOXO"
Jake, Dare to Dream Mentor
"Helping people has been something that was instilled in me as child, and has been something I have kept with me now as an adult.
As a Texas Highway Patrol State Trooper, I come in contact with thousands of people every single year. Some of those contacts leave lasting memories, where some are good, ones that you want to remember forever... and some are tough, and sometimes I wish I never saw them in the first place. All around, the hardest situations I have to deal with are ones that involve children and teenagers.
Even though some situations can be extremely hard, both mentally and emotionally, I always try to leave them with something positive. I know that some of the children and teenagers that I come in contact with may not have a strong support system, or stability, or a number of other things that can negatively impact their growth and identity.
I decided to mentor with the Houston Angels because I know that in this type of setting, I can actually try and make a positive impact on the youth’s lives outside of a “Police Officer” role. Mentoring a youth in the foster system is just another way for me to give back and try to do something else positive inside my community.
There is a strong need for mentors in the greater Houston area, especially males. I hope that other males and other First Responders see this as an opportunity to make yet another difference in our communities!"
Juneteenth is the national celebration of the ending of slavery in the United States. On June 19th, 1865, the Union soldiers landed here in Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free.
This was already two and a half years AFTER President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation - which had become official back in 1863. But due to Texas' minimal number of Union troops to enforce this Executive Order, slavery continued. Finally, with the surrender of General Lee in April of 1865, and the arrival of General Granger’s regiment, resistance was overthrown and slavery ended in Texas.
One of General Granger’s first orders was to read to the people General Order Number 3, which begins with:
"The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired laborer."
This day of shock and realization of freedom, turned into an annual day of rejoicing, reflection and prayer. In the early years, June 19th - referred to as "Juneteenth" - was mostly celebrated by the African American community. There was often resistance to these celebrations, so they had to take place in rural areas or on church grounds. But as more African Americans started to become land owners, land was donated and dedicated for the festivities.
Years later, classroom and textbook education started placing less emphasis and detail on the lives of former slaves. Textbooks often claimed Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 as the end of slavery, and left out the impact of General Granger’s arrival on June 19th. And due to economic and cultural pressures, such as the Great Depression, Juneteenth celebrations declined. But on January 1, 1980, Juneteenth became an official state holiday through the efforts of Al Edwards, an African American state legislator. The passage of this bill marked Juneteenth as the first emancipation celebration granted official state recognition. Edwards has since actively sought to spread the observance of Juneteenth all across America.
Today, more and more organizations, businesses and communities are starting to recognize and celebrate Juneteenth. It is an important time for our country to acknowledge American history, educate ourselves and others, promote African American culture and achievement, and strive for continued improvement.
Although this historic achievement happened so long ago, we know there is still so much work to be done in the continuous battle against racism and inequality, even to this day. Especially as we recently watched George Floyd laid to rest here in our city - over 150 years after Juneteenth began in our city. Houston Angels honors and celebrates this day, and we stand in solidarity with the African American community. We will always strive to educate ourselves, and celebrate diversity and inclusion in our city and within our own services. And we will always fight to empower this community to succeed.
We’re so excited to have 3 driven young professionals join our team this summer to help and learn all the things about nonprofit work, serving families and children in foster care, and making an impact on the local community!
Denise is currently a full-time student at University of Houston-Downtown, and she is an aspiring bilingual teacher. She was born and raised in Houston by immigrant parents from Mexico.
Denise’s passion for serving and helping at risk children began after her time spent in Mexico. She lived abroad for two years, and served the community of Puebla, Mexico through Living Hope International. During her time there, she lived alongside the orphaned children of Esperanza Viva and witnessed the healing power of love and Christ in their lives. As an advocate for children throughout the world, Denise hopes her time serving with Houston Angels will catapult her career within nonprofit organizations. She is excited and honored to be a small part of everything Houston Angels is doing to help the foster care community.
Loves: Jesus, fruit smoothies, scented candles, shopping, singing in the car
Dislikes: Houston traffic, negativity, roaches, airport layovers
Thanks to the incredibly talented and supportive @peterhealypaintings, Houston Angels now has its very own mural in downtown Houston! Stop by — 813 McKee St Houston TX 77002 — to #BeAHoustonAngel and get your photo taken in front of Peter’s beautiful artwork, in honor of our foster families and youth across Houston.
Read on to learn more about Peter and how he got involved with this special project.
PETER HEALY FINE ART
Peter Healy is an Irish Artist and Illustrator Born in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland. He’s had the pleasure of living in Ireland, England, Amsterdam, Los Angeles, and is now proud to call Houston, TX home, where he lives with his wife and two daughters.
Peter considers his work to be an ongoing visual echo chamber of the world around him. A lot of the time his art reflects change in life. Some are thoughtfully and carefully assembled painted objects, neatly organized in comfortable space. Others are 2D chaos and a big bang of color.
INSTAGRAM LIVE INTERVIEW W/ PETER
Melissa: First of all, your work is so beautiful. We’ve had so many compliments already.
Peter: Well I’m just grateful to be able to put whatever little talents I have to help a great organization like yours. So I’m honored.
Melissa: Can you just tell everybody a little bit about yourself? And how you got involved in this project?
Peter: Well, I’m obviously not from around here, as you can tell by my accent. I’m from Northern Ireland. I lived on the border between the North and South of Northern Ireland and this is now my home for the last ten years. And my wife and I know DeAnna, and she asked me to contribute and do the mural. I was delighted to do something to be part of the community and to do it for such a great organization.
Melissa: So where did you get some of the inspiration for how you did [the mural]? We knew we really wanted to give you creative freedom. We had the idea of doing the angel wings and the halo, but we just wanted to let you as the artist do what you wanted with it.
Peter: Well, I obviously researched a lot of angel wings and I thought to myself I wanted to put a different spin on it. I was mulling over it for quite a while, then one morning in the wee hours, it came to me and I thought of a combination of water clouds - almost like if you had a bucket of water, throw it in there, and it kind of explodes. I wanted that feeling of a giant explosion of life. And I added the colors as if you had layers of the water exploding, and I wanted to make that in the shape of wings. As you can see, I use bright colors in my work anyway, so I just dipped into palettes I already love and tried to make it a vibrant, whimsical, fun mural for everybody.
Melissa: Yes, I was just going to say - If anyone goes to your instagram page or your website they can see all of those similar colors and see that's your style. It fits in with everything, it's just so beautiful. I love it so much! I can’t wait to go out and get a picture in front of it... some of our team members already got a picture.
Is it your mother-in-law who adopted two children from foster care? Can you just talk about that a little bit?
Peter: Yeah, sure, I mean, they’re distant relatives and my mother wasn’t exactly looking to foster. She had three full grown children at this stage in her life. She saw the girls in need and she stepped in and it was like, see a need, fill a need. So they’re very much part of our lives, we’re all very close. My daughter is three and she looks at those girls like big sisters. They’re just a joy and we’re delighted to have them as a part of our family.
Melissa: So where can everybody go check out more of your work? What are you working on now, what do you have coming up, and where can they find you on social media and your website?
Peter: Sure - they can always check out my work at @peterhealypaintings - that's where I post all of my stuff on my instagram page. I have a studio partner, @mattmessinger9, and we’re going to have a show, if all goes well, on August 1st, so that’s where pieces like this and all of my new work is going. We’re based out of Hardy and Nance Studios near where the mural is, near McKee street. It’s a community of artists in a wonderful setting. We’re very excited and delighted to show off our new works. My website is www.peterhealypaintings.com . Mostly my instagram is where to find everything, I always post my new stuff there.
Melissa: And you actually donated [a painting] for our silent auction. I think it sold for $250! We had multiple bids on that one. Not only did you paint the mural, but also you found the location. Which we were not sure how to do when we first had this idea, so thank you for that too!
Peter: Yeah, I reached out to one of my landlords and their group is called Urban Genesis . His name is Ivan and he very graciously donated that wall for our cause. It’s a great location, easy to park at. They were brilliant and I’m so happy they let me have it. And it looks great with that skyline behind it.
Melissa: That picture that we just posted with the sky and everything, it’s so beautiful. When DeAnna sent that to me, I was like, “Oh my, a perfect picture!”
Peter: I know, I’m so happy when I see it. Every time I come out of a certain side of Hardy and Nance you can see the Houston skyline and the mural is just at the base of it. So it’s just like a platform for the rest of the skyline. It’s just stunning over there, so I’m really delighted that [Ivan] gave me such a prominent and accessible wall. You can see it coming right off the freeway.
Melissa: I can’t wait to go see it. Well, thank you so much, I appreciate all you’ve done for National Foster Care Month, for us, and for this event. I hope everyone who is listening follows Peter to check out more of his work, and we’ll post more details about you and the mural on our instagram. We were trying to do [the reveal] live and it started raining!
Peter: It’s no problem. I’m just delighted to be a part of it. Im honestly so very happy to do something for your wonderful cause. So it makes me feel amazing to get to be any part of it. Thank you.
Melissa: Thank you Peter, and thank you DeAnna for making the connection for us!
Houston is one of the most populated, diverse cities in the entire country. As a chapter, we acknowledge and celebrate the fact that the people we serve through our mission are, in fact, incredibly diverse. They come from different walks of life, and have confronted different challenges, traumas and forms of oppression. We have always felt it was important to have hard conversations about social issues that our city faces, and racism is one of them.
Kids in foster care, many of whom are people of color, have grown up in systems that have failed and are still failing them. Our organization knows that the foster care system is broken and often holds children back, rather than empowers them. We know that so many of them will become homeless, poor, or incarcerated. Kids who grow up in the foster care system are starting 10 steps behind... add additional steps if they are of color and face the challenges of systemic racism as well.
We want you to know that Houston Angels remains committed to being a part of this conversation. We will always support action that enables our children to be heard and have equal opportunities to thrive.
Some of our team members have personally experienced trauma, abuse, forms of racism and oppression. Some of us have already done a whole lot of work to learn about these topics. And some of us admit that we are just getting started and still have a lot to learn. But we ARE a team of people determined to continue learning more about what the people we serve actually need, from a variety of angles: socioeconomic, cultural, physical and mental health, and more. The solution is complex, and ALL of these things affect the outcome.
As an organization, we intend to continue:
Our organization was literally created to get to the root of the problem. We are not interested in silencing realities or bandaging outcomes. We will continue learning, collaborating, customizing our support to each and every family and youth that walks through our door, and doing whatever we can to support our local community in this great city of Houston. Our kids deserve better than these systems that hold them back.
COMMUNITY. EMPOWERMENT. HOPE
These are our organization's core values. We believe in: communities coming together, empowering kids to succeed, and creating hope for the future.
And we believe that Black Lives Matter.
Sincerely, Houston Angels
New parents typically spend roughly 9 months preparing for the arrival of their baby. American culture has developed many different ways to celebrate the upcoming birth of a child, including: pregnancy announcements, gender reveal parties, maternity photo-shoots, and fun apps that illustrate a baby's current size and stage of development. Many first-time parents are thrown a baby shower to honor this new chapter, offer love and advice for the parents-to-be, and offset the heavy costs of all the items needed to care for the baby. Additionally, most working parents are able to alert their workplace of their needs ahead of time, and plan for their upcoming maternity or paternity leave.
Welcoming a new foster placement is not as predictable an experience.