Building Genesis

Fostering New Beginnings

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The Impact of New Experiences and Adventures on Foster Children

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Remember the last time you stayed at someone’s house as a guest? Every interaction in an unfamiliar home feels like an intrusion. Now, imagine that you stayed there after losing your family, all of your friends, and everyone else you know. Imagine coming as a guest into someone’s home with none of your belongings — no extra underwear, no toiletries, none of the things that you’d pack on a trip. Imagine how long it would take for you to truly feel at home in this new environment.

Helping foster children feel loved and accepted is very important. It takes time to adjust to a new environment and it’s our job to help these children feel accepted. We took the children at GHH on a weekend retreat to the keys. As you undoubtedly know, children learn a thousand times more by actions than they do by words. This trip was designed for them to feel valued and not ignored. Going to Islamorada not only provided new perspectives and learning opportunities, but also deep memories and irreplaceable bonds that have insurmountable lifelong effects. The power of outdoors is indescribable. For many children, it is a strong reality that they will not have these formative outdoor experiences because they do not have the parents to provide them. Yet it’s so important for youth to experience life outside of their normal environment in order to learn more about the world outside of their typical surroundings. On our retreat, the kids were able to try things that they have never experienced before, from relaxing on hammocks to building castles and water tunnels at the beach. We went paddle boarding and kayaking, and did a little snorkeling too. On an adventure, you typically try new things and learn things about yourself that you might not have known before. One of our kids learned how to ride a bike and another mastered the patience of fishing. They caught a shark, snappers, and several other fish from the ocean. They even saw a stingray for the first time. One of our boys described his experience as “magical” and the others expressed that it was the best weekend of their lives and they are all excited to go on another adventure. Nic, one of our supporters, took one of the children on a treasure hunt on an island where they found a cool shell and saw “a ridiculous-sized shedded snake skin” – their words. The children’s excitement and invaluable learning experiences made the trip just as fulfilling for us as it was for them. We closed out the weekend with a night of star-gazing and s’mores, and dreamt of doing more great things together.

Our trip to Islamorada  was very successful and proved to be therapeutic to all the children. We are so thankful to Lisa Gorman and Sally Ashby who allowed us to stay at their beach house for free, to Nic Cheshire who provided food for the entire weekend and to Angela Prugh who assisted in chaperoning the children. We could not do anything without the amazing support of our Friends of Genesis crew!

Do you have a passion for helping kids in need? Please join us as we make new memories and discover new adventures in our quest to continue Building Genesis.

Celebrating New Beginnings at GHH Redlands And The Fight For Siblings In The Foster Care.

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When you enter foster care, you lose everything… parents, home, friends, and the feeling of attachment to community. Even one’s culture and identity seem to disappear. All too often, children in the child welfare system are also separated from their siblings. Sadly, some siblings are adopted into different families and many lose contact with each other. Everything becomes unfamiliar the moment a child is removed from their home. They experience a great deal of pain, anxiety, guilt, grief and loss of identity when they enter the foster care system. Research suggests that siblings placed together experience a lower risk of failed placements, companionship, and maintain many emotional benefits. Siblings placed together often feel more secure and are able to help each other adjust to their new family and community. Approximately two-thirds of children in foster care in the United States have a sibling in care and many of these children will be separated from their siblings. A common reason given for these separations is that workers aren’t able to find a permanent placement for all of the siblings together.

I’m happy to announce that GHH Redlands has siblings living in our foster home. They range from age 3 to12. It’s been an amazing two-year journey of chasing my calling to provide a family-like environment for foster children who deserve nothing less. What I’ve learned through this season is that motivation isn’t permanent. It is renewed each day. Vision isn’t indefinite. It is cast each morning. Discipline isn’t owned. It is fought for by the minute. And dreams are not free. They are realized by ruthless individuals who refuse to give up. In times of testing, it’s easy to lose sight of why you started. It’s easy to lose confidence in your ideas. During this journey, I realized that our fortitude is never for our benefit, but the benefit of others. Giving up isn’t about the change that would occur in our life, rather it’s the end of what our life was going to do, going to change, going to fix, or going to stop. And what I can say confidently after all that we’ve been through so far is that we aren’t going to give up; doors are opening and GHH is going to accomplish so much more for foster kids as we push forward. Watch what happens next as we continue to BUILD GENESIS.

Planning for Success: Helping Foster Youth Achieve Their Goals

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Do you remember when you bought your first car all on your own? It was undoubtedly a mix of emotions. Maybe you saved up for a specific car that you saw for sale, or perhaps you knew that the right one would come along as soon as you had enough money for it. There’s the feelings of growing anticipation and excitement leading up to the moment you decide on a car, then the joy and the great sense of self-accomplishment after you accept your shiny new keys and officially become a car owner.

This week, one of our boys was able to accomplish two of his goals. First, he completed his internship at the Key Biscayne Police Department. Second, he purchased his first car. It wasn’t just an impulse buy, either. He worked really hard all summer and saved all of his money to buy this car. And before he started earning money for the car, he began preparing early on for his driver’s license. He had never had the opportunity to drive until moving to GHH. Here, he was able to practice regularly with his house mom and our board members until he had his driving skills down. He also utilized our partnership with Victory Lane Ministry to work on fixing our GHH truck and learn some car maintenance skills that will help him be able to change his oil and fix his own car in the future. Last school year, he sacrificed so much time taking a 3-hour bus ride to get to school everyday. This year, he will not only be able to drive to school much faster on his own, but will have pride and satisfaction knowing that his own hard work and dedication allowed him to change his life for the better. No matter how many times he gets kicked down, he has learned to stand right back up again, never giving up despite of the challenges. Our hope for all of our boys is that they learn this feeling of success and that we can help them use that to launch new beginnings in their lives.

Much can be done to better serve older children while they are in our care and to provide them with better opportunities as they transition out of the system. We offer programs that draw on community resources, promote a system of care, link youth to mentors, and teach them life skills that hold promise for improving their lives. With partners, we can do so much more! Please join us in helping our youth achieve successful new beginnings.

 

How Mental Health is Affecting Our Foster Youth.

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Can you imagine the pain you would feel if your father gave you up for drugs or your mother told you that she wished she had aborted you? Have you ever been unable to sleep at night because your past was haunting you? According to the Children’s Bureau, in the United States there are approximately 500,000 children in the foster care system at any given time. Recent studies suggest that up to 80% of children in foster care have significant mental health issues. Factors contributing to the mental and behavioral health of children in foster care include; the history of complex trauma, frequently changing situations and transitions, broken family relationships, inconsistent and inadequate access to mental health services and the over-prescription of psychotropic medications. Unmet mental health needs for foster children can mean ongoing problems as youth in foster care enter adulthood. It is not surprising that a study from Casey’s Family Program shows that over 21% of foster care alumni suffer from PTSD. That’s a staggering rate – even higher than that of U.S. war veterans. The National Institute of Mental Health defines Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as an anxiety disorder that may develop following an individual’s experiencing or witnessing of a traumatic event, where the natural “fight or flight” response is damaged or altered. Although no longer in danger, the individual may feel stress or intense fear following a situation in which they or another person experienced a threat to their life or incurred severe injury. Generally, the symptoms of PTSD can be divided into three categories: re-experiencing symptoms, avoidance symptoms, and hyper-arousal symptoms.

Our boys at GHH have a constant fear of losing housing due to the multiple placements they experienced while in the foster care system. Never feeling a sense of stability, fear of spending the holidays alone, constant reminders that they have no family support and the feeling of rejection, not understanding their purpose in life due to lack of positive affirmation or empowerment – all of these can cause a child to experience severe anxiety and distress. These kids desperately need love and support infused into their lives! It’s our duty as a nation to help them. Let’s make each youth feel that they are a cause for celebration and joy. We must demand justice and safety at every level for children, not only because it is their basic human right but because those who grow and learn in stable environments and with he protection of families ultimately create humane and thriving societies as adults. They are our future, and we have a responsibility to nurture a positive and healthy next generation. Genesis Hopeful Haven is tackling this need as we provide on-site mental health treatments twice a week through our partners at Our Kids. We also conduct thorough mental health assessments and screenings bi-yearly, and advocate on behalf of foster youth to increase accessibility and continuity of mental health. Our goal is to establish cross training for evidence-based practices among all systems involved in providing services.

We’re constantly working to expand our reach and help more kids in the foster system, but we would be nowhere without our partners! Do you have skills, services or funding that could help these kids succeed? We need your help!  Join us and be a part of fostering new beginnings.

Building a Solid Summer: Programs Through Partnerships

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Meaningful, engaging activities play a vital role in keeping kids safe during the summer. Due to the trauma that most foster care children experience, they are at an increased risk for mental health problems and may face compounding adversities. Most youth do better with structure and routine, and those with mental health issues including anxiety, ADHD and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder are especially dependent on the predictable “safe zone” that school provides. These youth are at much higher risk of getting into trouble or becoming severely depressed during times of idleness and seclusion where they have little to do except watch TV.

To minimize this risk, GHH has fun and structured programs set up to keep our boys active this summer. We believe these activities build strong character, help with developing coping strategies and provide the environmental support that is necessary for youth facing challenging circumstances.

We’ve partnered with Yoga Gangsters to come to the home and lead classes with our boys every week. They specialize in classes that help youth who have experienced trauma. Deep breathing exercises, anger management and relaxation to help remain calm are just some of the valuable techniques the boys will be learning.

To further build character, throughout the summer they will be volunteering at Camillus House to feed the homeless and give back to the community. The boys will also volunteer at Community Connexion  sports summer camp. Volunteering is a great activity that gives youth a sense of purpose and belonging. Another great partnership we have established is with Motivational Edge, who will come out to GHH to do weekly music classes. One of our boys aspires to become a music producer and we’re excited that these classes will help foster his skills. Another boy in our home has an interest in agriculture, which is a great thing to learn when you’ve come from a background where fresh produce is too expensive and hard to come by. Soon we hope to start our gardening program with Slow Food Miami. Gardening teaches the boys an important skill, gives them a sense of ownership and promotes healthy eating along with many other healthy habits.

Community Connexion will provide tutoring twice a week, as well as mentoring services. This will help our boys to sharpen their studying skills throughout the summer and to stay on target with ACT prep. Victory Lane Ministries has signed on with us to teach the boys how to fix cars. They will be getting driver’s licenses this summer and what a blessing it will be to learn car mechanics in preparation for when they purchase their own!

Towards the end of the summer, we hope to take the boys on a trip. We’ll be doing a workshop on traveling since most of our boys have never even left Miami, let alone gone on a trip or vacation. Our goal is that by the end of the summer all of our boys will have passports. We will start raising money in order to make this trip possible. We would be thrilled to allow our boys to experience their first trip, and any financial donations to that program would be greatly appreciated!

Genesis Hopeful Haven could not function without our partners who support our growth. We’ve been so blessed to partner with so many amazing groups and organizations that enhance the lives of our boys and allow them to pave a path to success. We would love for you to join our team and be a part of fostering new beginnings. We plan to keep our boys engaged and productive and to continue growing our programs as the summer goes on. Join our journey as we continue Building Genesis.

 

Be the change that you wish to see in the world- Gandhi

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Wondering what you can do to make a difference in the life of a child in foster care? Nobody longs for a safe and loving family more than a child in foster care. Genesis Hopeful Haven needs you to be an angel on earth for these youth. You will not only bring positive change to the lives of these vulnerable youth, but also you will be a force of change that will affect their children and grandchildren for generations to come. In being a part of their lives, you will enrich your life as well. Last week our Vice President of GHH Tim McDougall, who is a Pilot for United Airlines, took our boys out to fly a plane. Neither of them had ever even been on a plane, let alone had the opportunity to fly one. He conducted a 30-minute workshop about what flying entails, explained how the different parts of the plane work together and went through the process of inspecting the plane before taking off. The experience was both thrilling and inspiring for our boys. Although flying is part of everyday life for Tim, by sharing his world with the boys he was able to make a positive impact in their lives and expose them to something new and interesting. We are all about exposing the boys to many career opportunities and we find that using various workshops led by people in different vocations is an excellent way to do this.

This week our board member Caryn Lavernia, who is Assistant Vice President for Florida International University (FIU), did a workshop on resume building. They worked on creating a resume, learned about the importance of building good resumes and applied for the Miami Dade County Public School Internship. Caryn is always providing our program with amazing resources that will help us in producing the best practice model to help our youth succeed. After the workshop, she assisted one of the boys with his Spanish homework and took him out to practice driving lessons. Her contribution of time and energy has been invaluable for our boys.

Aside from workshop leaders and teachers, those who donate to our program have blessed us as well. For instance, a great supporter Claudia Santiago is constantly donating home items to us. We are so thankful for our many supporters and we couldn’t do this without them! In order to make our program become successful and to touch the lives of at-risk youth, we need more of our community’s support. Please volunteer to help us out in any way possible. Just like our workshop leaders and donators, you have something to share that will greatly impact our youth and expand their horizons. Join us in paving this path for the next generation.

Involving Foster Children in Extracurricular Activities

This weekend we had a chance to attend a wrestling tournament and watch one of our GHH boys in action. He won a first place medal and was very proud to share the experience with us. We encourage all of our children to participate in extracurricular activities or to volunteer in the community. We have another boy who aspires to become a famous make-up artist. He will start taking classes this summer at Miami Dade College. Our third boy enjoys boxing and dreams of becoming a music producer.

If any children can benefit from extracurricular activities, it is foster youth. On average, foster youth tend to have worse academic performance and more behavioral problems than other students. Thirty percent of foster youth perform below grade level. They are more likely to need special education services. They also get held back at a much higher rate. A lot of the issues for foster are centered around frequent school changes. Each time a foster youth changes homes – which can be frequent – they also change schools. This means they must adapt to a new peer group, new classes, and new teachers. These changes increase their chances of having behavioral problems and leads to a higher risk of drop out.

Extracurricular activities help with academic achievement, with solving behavioral problems and with identity development. However, there are systemic barriers for foster youth involvement in after school activities. Facilitating foster youth participation requires the coordination of state and local policymakers (allowing fee waivers), caregivers, school districts (encouragement and support is needed) and the foster youth themselves. Typical school experiences involve more than just attending school and getting credits. It is also about being a part of school community.

An increased focus on removing the barriers to foster youth participation in extracurricular activities, as well as actively encouraging involvement, could yield many benefits for this often overlooked population of youth. At Genesis Hopeful Haven, we make extracurricular activities a priority. We are looking for any niché our youth want to be involved in – basketball, soccer, art, tumbling, etc.  Anything that interests our boys, we make it our duty to sponsor it. It is ultimately rewarding to us to see our boys enjoying their interests to the fullest. Be a part of the journey that helps break barriers for foster children who are often easily forgotten.

Extending Foster Care Beyond 18

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Did you know that most children in the foster care system have never had their birthday celebrated with a party? It seems like such a simple thing, but for most kids in foster care, their birthdays go completely unnoticed and it’s just another day without a “forever” family. For most other children, birthdays are happy occasions shared with family and friends, but for children in foster care, birthdays can be a painful reminder of the family they are no longer with. This week we had our first chance to celebrate one of our boys on his special day. A few of our board members and I took him out to Wynwood for dinner and loudly sang “Happy Birthday”. He was extremely surprised and really enjoyed the night. Our goal was to help him to feel loved, to feel special, to feel “normal” and to know that someone in his community cares. I hope that by celebrating his life, we were able to give him a little bit of joy that he can carry with him for a long time.

A study from Chapin Hall, a Policy Research Center at the University of Chicago, finds through research in new programs created to help aged-out children that although those who age out of the foster care system are not exactly falling off a cliff, they are desperately clinging to the edge. Many programs are catered to girls while boys are left behind. Due to the lack of support, they usually end up in jail, homeless, and struggling with substance abuse. These children are our children – the children of society, of the state. I think it’s our responsibility to do our best to help bring positive change in their otherwise unchanging lives. Research says that former foster kids who have someone to rely on do better than those who don’t. I truly believe that despite their circumstances, with a little help these foster kids can grow to be successful and happy in life. This week we are thankful for the chance to celebrate a life of someone who is starting their new beginning. I hope you will be a part of many future celebrations and join us on our journey as we continue Building Genesis.

First Successful GHH Kendall Outing

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Last week we had our first outing – a trip to the Miami Dade County Fair. This outing gave both boys a chance to bond and get to know each other. We interviewed 10 boys before deciding on the two selected. Now that they’ve spent some time together, we are so happy to see how well their personalities balance each other out. They both enjoyed going on the big rides – the ones that made my heart drop and caused my lungs not to function properly the next day. Alex loves sports and proved to have excellent aim at the target games. He won the house mom a gigantic stuffed monkey and a Care Bear for me. It brought joy to my face to see us interacting like a family…

Despite the fun and fulfillment of seeing the boys enjoying themselves at the fair, hints of hidden troubles often surfaced. Being in the foster system causes you to build a wall, causes you not to trust others and usually makes you feel that you are unsafe. It’s going to be a process. I can’t wait to share with them the story of Genesis who birthed the vision of GHH and made all of this possible. For now, we are pleased to see that the boys love their new home. One has decorated his room to perfection and the other one is adding a pet chameleon to his “sanctuary.” We are so thankful for Nora Estevez for donating her home to us and allowing us to be rent free for three months. I invite everyone to join us on this journey of providing these boys a new beginning. Genesis Redlands is definitely still in the making. I can’t wait to share the new discoveries we make along the way.

Until next time, friends! Keep pressing on and never give up.

New Beginnings in Progress: Our First Boys find a home at GHH Kendall

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We’ve just had our first boy move into Genesis Hopeful Haven Kendall. He was exuberant and full of excitement about the move. He made comments like, “I’ve never had my own room before,” and “I’ve never lived in a nice home like this.” Seeing his reactions, I was once again overjoyed that our home can provide this for boys in need. We got him settled in and took him out to dinner at the Cheesecake Factory. This weekend he enjoyed swimming in our pool and taking a trip to Miami Beach. He is a Junior in high school and our hope is to get him prepared for college and equipped for a bright and successful future.

For youth who don’t have the support of a safe family, finding their way in the world can be a difficult challenge, especially for those aging out of foster care. Our goal at Genesis Hopeful Haven is that we provide a family-like environment and give our youth tools for success. Our residents are required to attend weekly workshops. This month’s workshop topics are budgeting, grocery shopping, cooking and creating a vision board. The purpose of these workshops is to give each youth an opportunity to learn essential life skills and practice living independently while still having the support and guidance of caring staff. We will need volunteers to come out and conduct workshops of their choice. If you would like to volunteer, please email Nora Estevez at enora2222@gmail.com!

Once all of our boys are moved in, we plan to start a gardening program where all the boys will participate in planting their own fruits and veggies. We will focus on a variety of topics, and plan to incorporate the boys’ interests so we can help them become more knowledgeable in those areas. Tony has already expressed interest in agriculture and technology, which has us excited to roll out our gardening program.

Our second boy will be moving in two weeks which is his 18th birthday. He’ll be with us to participate in our first outing. We will conduct one extracurricular activity every month with the residents. This month we are going to the Miami-Dade County Fair. The purpose of our fun outings is to expose them to different cultures and give them an opportunity to develop a global mindset. Cultural exposure doesn’t happen in a bubble. It needs to be incorporated into an individual’s lifestyle, mindset and belief system. We will take advantage of the vast resources Miami has to offer. We plan on having fun with global food, music, books, art, museum exhibits and more. These outings will be crucial for the boys’ growth, but also really fun! If you would like to volunteer to be a chaperon please email Nora at enora2222@gmail.com. Or if you are interested in mentoring and tutoring, please email her as well.

Youth in foster care and those who have aged out deserve to have a chance to grow up healthy, get a job and be successful adults the same way as children who have parents. If you have a heart for youth in need, we would love to hear from you. We hope that you can partner with us and become a part of this journey towards healing the wounded, giving hope to the hopeless and providing a safe haven to children without homes.

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