Foster Youth Luggage

By Latrenda Leslie

When I was asked to pose for a photograph about foster youth luggage, the clear plastic bags that foster youth belongings are put into when they enter and leave a placement, I was eager and happy to take part.

The photo does not bring up bad foster memories for me. Unlike other foster youth, I had places with biological family where I could leave my most precious items. I did have my belongings put into plastic bags, but I learned to be detached from things while in care, because theft was so common.

Foster Youth Museum image
From placement to placement, foster youth carry their belongings in clear plastic garbage bags. Latrenda Leslie is featured in Foster Youth Museum’s “Lost Childhoods” exhibition at Grace Cathedral. Open daily 9 a.m. – 6 p.m., Oct. 15 – Nov, 1. Admission is free. (“Foster Youth Luggage” by Ray Bussolari)

I kept nothing of value with me, so when I saw my clothes packed into the clear bags, it had no power over me. The strength I had as a foster kid was to accept the harsh consequences, like thievery among youth, and plan for it. What the picture means to me now, is a reminder of how many times I have moved after age 18 and after foster care. Instability is a common reason that youth enter care, and instability is a very common experience for youth after they exit care.

When you see my photo in Lost Childhoods at Grace Cathedral, I want you to think about the instability foster youth experience, and I want you to know that we carry on and that we are strong. And there are ways you can support foster youth in your community.

I hope to see you at Grace Cathedral, October 15 – November 1, 2015. Come any day, 9 a.m. – 6 p.m.

Foster Youth Museum Presents Lost Childhoods Exhibition at Grace Cathedral

Foster Youth Museum Presents Lost Childhoods Exhibition at Grace Cathedral

October 15 – November 1, 2015
Grace Cathedral, 1100 California Street, San Francisco
Open Daily, 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM

Foster Youth Museum presents its groundbreaking exhibit about youth experiences in foster care at the historic Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. Through photos, donated objects, video portraits, and foster youth art, Lost Childhoods tells the story of loss and powerlessness – and the human capacity for resilience and connection.

FYM at Grace PostcardVisitors to Grace Cathedral may be surprised by the artifacts that youth have chosen to save and share, from the hefty case reports that follow foster youth from placement to placement, to letters from incarcerated loved ones. In the words of museum contributor, Sophia Herman, “It’s so important for foster youth to have documentation of their experiences. Lost Childhoods validates our existence.”

The museum highlights several themes that characterize experiences in foster care, including loss, developmental disruption, institutionalization, and powerlessness. The museum does not stop there, however, and also highlights the remarkable stories of perseverance, achievement, and connection. “Some of the objects reveal the role of faith in perseverance,” says Jamie Lee Evans, co-director of Foster Youth Museum. “We are proud to be partnering with Braid Mission and Grace Cathedral on this exhibition because communities of faith can play such an important role in supporting foster youth.”

The Braid Mission, a ministry of the Episcopal Diocese of California and lead sponsor of the exhibition, is a spiritual community that brings together the young, entrepreneurial spirit of San Francisco with the needs of youth whose life experience has included the challenge of being in foster care. In the words of The Reverend Rebecca Edwards, ““At Braid, it is our fundamental belief that divine love heals wounds and all of us are channels of that love. Whether or not you describe yourself as a person of faith, everyone has the power to bring healing love to a foster child.”

Foster Youth Museum was conceived by a group of former foster youth who wanted to share their experiences, so people could better understand the needs of foster youth in their community. In 2012, there were 51,800 children under the age of 18, in California, living in foster care. Approximately 4,000 foster youth “age out” of care each year with insufficient housing, support, education, wellness, and resources.[1]

Lost Childhoods is curated by Ray Bussolari and a team of exhibition collaborators, all of whom are former foster youth. The exhibit features more than 50 items, and is made possible with the generous support of Braid Mission, Grace Cathedral, the Diocese of California, Zellerbach Family Foundation, and Stuart Foundation.

Grace Cathedral, 1100 California Street, San Francisco, CA, is open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission is free.

[1] http://www.casey.org/media/California_SIFS_2014_SC2.pdf

Freshies

By: Brittany Walker Pettigrew

I had the honor of seeing a small portion of the Foster Youth Museum in April 2015 at the Fairness and Equity Symposium in Oakland, CA. The conference, sponsored by the California Social Work Education Center (CalSWEC), featured the Homeless exhibition that took guests through the foster youths’ experiences in systems of care and homelessness.

At the end of the exhibit, there was an opportunity to take a pair of new socks, dubbed “Freshies,” in a homemade wrapper to give to a homeless youth. I thought that this might be the coolest souvenir I have ever gotten from a museum! It’s almost embarrassing to think of how trite that is in retrospect…but by my office at 5th and Broadway in Oakland, there are a number of people “spangin'”– asking for spare change, as I learned in the exhibit–every day and on nearly every corner. And come to think of it, many of them look pretty young…I took three and within the next 36 hours, they all had new owners.I have always struggled with giving money to people asking for spare change. I have never been able to give without feeling entitled to tell people how they can spend it so I say “Sorry, not today” and that’s it. But when I was asked for spare change and I offered, “Would you like a fresh pair of socks?” the response caught me off guard. I suppose I expected a casual, if not flip, “Sure”, kinda like when someone gives you new underwear as a present at Christmas. Certainly, a useful gift that one wouldn’t turn down, but not exciting. What I heard was “REALLY?!”…”Oh my God, YES!”…I can only imagine that they didn’t think I actually had them on me. So when from the depths of my purse, I produced a pair of “freshies,” each and every one cupped them in their hands and held them to their heart. All of them used the word “amazing” in their expressions of gratitude. It was moving how much they appreciated them. I just had no idea.

With each “freshie,” I just wanted people to know that someone who doesn’t know them cares about them all the same. And if each “freshie” sends that message, well that’s a donation I can most certainly give freely.

To support bringing Foster Youth Museum to more communities, we welcome your donation.