What does “A Teen’s Life Is Worth Documenting” mean to you?
For a child in the foster care system it probably means those words that are written about them in their personal file. You know the file that precedes them at every meeting, placement, and court hearing. The file that attempts to explain the reason they entered foster care, the length of time in the system, the changes in schools, the number of foster placements, health concerns, and any mental health screenings and diagnoses. The file containing this documentation is extremely important right? Essential even?!
I’m not speaking of the file that documents the thoughts and judgments of countless social workers, lawyers, doctors, and educators and barely contains the views of the youth in foster care. The accomplishments, aspirations, and support systems in a teen’s life are worth documenting. Every teen is unique and full of promise and potential. My teens document their lives in a professional portfolio — a visual tool that gives employers, recruiters, scouts, and mentors a complete picture of who you are. I believe that a professional portfolio can be an integral element not only in building skills and confidence in youth but also in helping them develop and maintain crucial personal and professional connections.
Many of us we are skilled in a variety of areas. Our culture has taught us to multi-task like our lives depend on it (often times it does). Throughout my career and definitely as an entrepreneur I have felt like a jack of all trades and a master of none on many occasions. I have helped clients with housing, food, medical assistance, and clothing. I have played the role of “work mom”, chauffer, parenting coach, stylist, and teacher. Some days I have worn the hat of scholarship consultant, academic advisor, counselor, tour guide, and career coach. I am truly a “do what needs to be done” kind of lady. In fact, two of my most used phrases are “get it done” and “keep it moving”. That’s good right? Well, usually it is.
A few years ago I had begun to run on “auto pilot” for a couple months. At times I would do a presentation or workshop simply because I had the knowledge or because I was asked. I was forced to be honest with myself and take a look at how I was spending my time. I realized that busy doesn’t always equate to productive. I needed to make some changes.
In our work world, evidence-based practice and evidence-based research are King. Objectives, outcomes, and goals are commonplace. In my supervisory role I stress that we have to have proof that we are doing really works. I am a huge proponent of civic engagement and so as I was thinking about the upcoming Dr. Martin Luther King Day and the Youth Service America kick off a semester of service I decided to go a bit further and hit the internet to provide you with documentation that supports what I’ve seen in my experience and know in my heart is an effective aspect of youth development.
After weeks of dropping hints, I announced on New Year’s Day that The Teen Toolbox will work for and with youth in the foster care system. Many people have supported the change but wondered why I decided to focus on teens in foster care and why I am making the decision now. The truth is I have worked with and for youth in foster care for the last twenty years. This has always been my passion. Collecting donations for a residential home for teen mothers in the child welfare system as a high school senior was my entry point to the world of youth in foster care. My curiosity led me to do more research and to pursue social work in college.
Since 2007, JaMai has been collecting and delivering purses packed with personal care items to teenage girls in foster care, in group homes, and in homeless shelters. Her project is known as Pack A Purse Holiday Drive™. Although JaMai was away at school until early December and I was unable to handle the physical tasks of organizing our 5th Annual Pack A Purse Drive, 2011 was our best year ever. This year another sponsor, The Maids of Maryland, came on board. I want to take this opportunity to send a special thank you to The Maids of Maryland and Linda Crosby who were able to garner print and television media coverage and collect 578 purses at their host site. They also delivered over 200 of those purses. We would also like to send a shout out to Sabrina McLean who donated to Pack A Purse, served as a host site, and delivered purses to 3 organizations. Another heartfelt thank you goes to Cindy Freland who also donated to the holiday drive and served as a host site. A grand total of 735 purses were donated to the following organizations:
During a recent presentation, a high school student asked if she should wear her school uniform to her job interview at a fast food restaurant the following day. Here are the facts – the young lady has a half day schedule at school and the potential employer is aware that she is a student and instructed her to come right after school. My answer was that she shouldn’t wear her school uniform to her interview if she had the ability to bring a change of clothing to school with her and change into it in ten minutes or less.
Young people need to know how to truly “dress for success”. Have you explained to your youth that fabric, color, length, fit, and style matter? Just because a student is wearing a skirt or a pair of slacks doesn’t mean they’re dressed professionally. Whether interviewing for a part-time position, applying for seasonal or summer work, or attending a college fair students should dress “up” with the option of going casual later if the environment permits.
The process of developing a portfolio in our Packaged For Success™ Portfolio Development Program builds winner habits. Success is within our reach.
A habit is a behavior pattern acquired by frequent repetition. Winner and losers do things differently. They not only think differently but they also act differently. Winners have habits that are valuable and move them forward.