- When Victoria Jones aged out of foster care at age 18, she had no job, no money for food and no place to eat Thanksgiving dinner.
Jones, the fictitious main character in the best-selling novel The Language of Flowers, represents the approximately 24,000 foster youth across the U.S. who make the difficult transition from foster care to adulthood each year, according to the Administration of Children and Families.
Statistically this difficult and often premature transition results in challenging outcomes for youth, such as homelessness, joblessness and a lack of community resources and support.
To help combat the difficulties youth like Victoria face once they’re on their own, Language of Flowers author Vanessa Diffenbaugh, along with a team of experts, today launched an online community for youth emancipating from the foster care system.
“I’m thrilled and very excited,” said Diffenbaugh.
Diffenbaugh and her colleagues called the initiative the Camellia Network, meaning our destiny is in your hands, after the definition of the camellia flower in the Language of Flowers. The new online community is a Facebook of resources. Fifty youth from nine states have profiles with their stories along with a wish list of their most essential needs. Individuals, corporations and organizations also have profiles describing both ways they can help and whatever existing resources they have to help one or as many youth in the network as they can.
The idea is if someone like Victoria has access to the network, he or she will be able to log on and find a company offering job training and/or internships; a mother or a foster dad willing to help with rent money; and an entire community of support.
“We’re not just about youth getting wishes granted, but we’re investing in tech and showcasing work that is being done in a location and give all these organizations a place to be found and celebrated,” said Isis Keigwin, co-founder and CEO of Camellia Network.
All the youth serviced by the network are referred by child welfare organizations to ensure they have experienced the foster care system, and have access to a computer so they can consistently participate online. The network is starting with 50 youth to make sure all the youth can be helped, and won’t be disappointed.
But Diffenbaugh and Keigwin are clear that the Network has been designed with the goal of signing up as many individuals as possible to provide financial and emotional support for the youth.
“When people raise their hands and say they want to help, the more people that help the more youth we can serve,” said Keigwin. “I want to see the network grow in a sustainable way, so helping as many youth as possible and getting as many people involved as possible.”
Camellia completed a pilot project of the network earlier this year during which 33 youth in seven states received support from organizations and individuals. The number one need the network found youth had was health care, both medical and dental. With this launch, the network is working on creating partnerships with entities that can provide such services.
Once the youth receive the health care, school supplies and other needs on their list, Diffenbaugh said, “we hope it wont be just you get your stuff and you’re done.” Instead, they want the young to commit to staying with the network long term for increased support, guidance and to foster a culture of love.
“I want to see the community thrive and interactive and engaging, said Keigwin. “I want to see youth stay on and continue to be supported.”