Guest column: Judi Woods ... Helping foster kids take the next steps

By Judi Woods

Fort Myers Beach

Executive director

Footsteps to the Future

Nationwide, more than 800,000 abandoned, abused and neglected children live in foster homes. While worthy efforts are made to reunite them with their families, scores of these children remain in "the system," shuttled from home to home, until they reach 18.

At that critical point in their young lives, they officially "age out" of foster care, ready or not for the real world. Sadly, too many leave without the benefit of a high school diploma, sufficient life skills, a place to live, and little hope for a bright future.

Instead of looking forward to college, a decent job, or the other prospects that typical 18-year-olds enjoy, aged-out foster children face such harsh realities as crime, drug or alcohol abuse, unwanted pregnancies, and homelessness.

The problem certainly exists here in Southwest Florida, where dozens of foster children confront the aging-out dilemma each year. Especially vulnerable are the young women, most of whom have nowhere to turn and no one to guide their next move. That's where Footsteps to the Future is making a difference — and we invite you to join in our efforts.

Footsteps to the Future, a local, non-profit organization is committed to helping these young women gain confidence, become self-sufficiency, and lead a healthy, productive lifestyle.

We offer them the tools to make positive choices and reach their highest potential. Footsteps provides evidence–based mentoring, tutoring, focuses on academic achievement, employment readiness and life skills training.

• Our mentoring program comprises a growing number of passionate, committed, successful local women who volunteer their time and talents.

• Our vehicle donation program provides transportation that the young women need to commute to work and school. To date, local individuals have donated 21 vehicles.

• Our newest program, for academic achievement and tutoring, is under way as we focus on assisting our young women join the 30 percent of foster youth who earn a high school diploma or GED by the time they turn 18. That means 70 percent of foster youth nationwide do not make that grade.

Footsteps is not funded by government grants or the United Way. Our funding comes from private donations, grants and fund-raising events. We have reached a critical juncture, as the needs of these young women is growing, especially in today's difficult economy. Preventative services like those developed by Footsteps are the most cost-effective way to meet the needs of these girls and change their plight, and our success rate thus far has been both remarkable and rewarding to all those involved.

We urge you to become a part of the solution. We need you — your time, talent and treasure to serve as a guiding light to these women — to show them that individuals and leaders in our in our community do indeed care about their aspirations and future success.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. – Margaret Mead

Contact Woods at 239-281-7378; judiwoods2@earthlink.net; www.footstepstothefuture.org

© 2012 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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