"One of the most memorable evenings I've had with my mentee was last spring at the beach, her feet soaked in freezing water, but she was getting the most glorious senior pictures taken. This alone is remarkable as only 50% of children experiencing foster care graduate high school. But this particular week was monumental for her.
In addition to the year of mentorship documented above, in this one week, she:
Just two weeks prior to that list, the only thing that was certain, was that she was turning 18 and aging out of foster care.
Because of all her hard work and relationship we'd built, and because trusted adults consistently stepped into the gaps, her outcomes have been dramatically affected. She graduated! She skirted homelessness. She has a job, license, and car. She has healthy, responsible adults who genuinely care about her.
When you step into this kind of life-changing role, whether you're a volunteer, donor, or supporter from afar, you need to have a strong back, soft front, and wild heart. Being strong and consistent for kids in care, being open and meeting them right where they are, and dreaming big - even when they can't do it for themselves yet."
-Emily, Olympic Angels Dare to Dream Mentor
In early fall, he was picked up from school by the local sheriff's department and brought straight to their home - a loving home, but with caregivers who had never parented before.
At seven years old, he had already been making his own life decisions for years. Dressing himself, navigating a troubled household, finding his own food, and his own way to school...
So when he entered foster care, there was suddenly structure - and like kids who enter care, he had also experienced profound neglect and abuse. With all of this came big, challenging behaviors. The foster parents needed help finding calm in the chaos, and oftentimes the only people who would answer the phone were their Love Box volunteers.
They didn't always have the answers, but they were there, willing to talk it out and help the family get through that day. From the very first child that entered their home, this Love Box showed up in life-giving, deeply meaningful ways:
✓ delivering countless meals
✓ giving rides to soccer and gymnastics
✓ sitting through court hearings
✓ celebrating and grieving with them
✓ helping with house projects
They held the hands of the foster parents and hearts of dozens of children over time - even following them as they returned home or to a new placement to keep familiar support for that child in place.
Love Box volunteers connected so deeply with this family that lifelong friendships - relational permanency - naturally developed. This improved the lives of everyone involved, and changed the story of foster care for the kids who lived in this home.
An Olympic Angels mentor is a fierce advocate for the youth they are matched with. They truly commit to a kid and guide them into adulthood. This is a life-changing relationship.
In late summer of 2021, I was working at the kitchen table with our Case Manager. She answered a call from a woman who, through tears, told us how rough it had been. She and her husband had never parented before when they got the call from CPS to pick up two children who were distant relatives. They weren’t prepared for the things that the kids had been through - AND she was expecting a baby soon. It was a hard call - we didn’t have the ability to match them with a volunteer group immediately.
The couple made huge life-changing sacrifices to accommodate caring for the siblings. And the kids had extreme trauma and anxiety that was constantly resurfacing. They felt abandoned.
The family was on our waitlist for a few months while we assembled and trained a Love Box group that was just right for this family.
Volunteers worked hard and loved hard, and showed up for a solid year in a variety of ways that made the Love Box a stand-in, massively supportive family. They helped them hold their sadness and stood by the kids through the unimaginable situation that brought them to where they were.
Along with their foster parents, this patchwork family held them accountable, guided them, accepted them, and LOVED them.
Our Love Box groups mimic a healthy extended family. And it serves the volunteers as much as it serves the children. People are meant to belong to each other.
We’re built for connection. We’re meant to serve and be with and love on each other. To be at each other's football games and art openings, and sitting around a table laughing while eating pizza together. All Olympic Angels does is give permission and a framework for people to do it well.
The Olympic Peninsula is a uniquely difficult place to be a caregiver or child in foster care. We suffer from a consistent lack of available foster homes here. It is not uncommon for kids to be moved hundreds of miles away because there simply is no place for them.
So when a family is referred to our programs, our goal is to support them in the most meaningful ways possible.
Only a few choose to step into fostering - it's up to the rest of us to keep them going.
This three-minute video features a few of our local foster parents - listen to what having a Love Box has meant to them. The difference it's made in their lives has been transformative.
Community-supported foster care is changing their experience.
It is changing their lives.
With consistent support, they feel more equipped to continue doing the hard work of fostering and do what they do best - love children
It's back to school time around here and an unfortunate statistic that sticks in our minds is that only 50% of kids experiencing foster care graduate high school. So much preparation that most people don't even think about goes into getting kids across that finish line. But for kids experiencing foster care, those basic benchmarks are not guaranteed and definitely don't come naturally.
Before any great strides can be made, there needs to be a baseline of NORMALCY. Because when a child's entire being is fight/flight/freeze, academic success is not at the top of the priority list - or even possible, oftentimes. They are truly just surviving.
When kids who experience foster care frequently change homes, caregivers, towns, schools and their familiar environments, it can be hard to feel stable.
Hard to feel normal - let alone thrive.
The goals of our Dare to Dream Program are to provide children with typical childhood experiences, helping to promote positive mental health, emotional well-being, and identity formation - and eventually, encouraging teens toward overall better academic performance, and increased college participation.
To get there though, they start with basics - things like: building rapport, positive and healthy relationships, building confidence and self-worth, and building healthy habits.
Normalcy has become something Dare to Dream volunteer, KC Upshaw focuses on with the youth she is mentoring. The young teen's life has been in so much transition over the last year, that KC has become a trusted and consistent adult in her life.
"I was raised with the understanding that education is very important, but I was shocked to feel so differently with her...School is so far down on the priority list right now because everything else is chaos.
✅ Making sure she has a bed to sleep in is a priority.
✅ Making sure she knows where dinner is coming from is a priority.
No one is getting her up for school in the morning or making sure she’s doing her homework.
How is she supposed to thrive without consistency - without normalcy?
School will be a priority later on, but during this time of transition, it’s just not the priority."
Instead, the pair do a lot of everyday things together. Her mentee asked if they could get together on Memorial Day, but KC already had plans to be at a barbecue with her 95-year-old grandmother - so her mentee came along.
KC will invite her to work out with her and pick meals to cook together. They window shop downtown and get boba tea - normal kid experiences for a kid her age. The teen recently asked to do a Harry Potter movie night (KC agreed, but insisted on introducing her to popcorn from The Rose as well). Normalcy.
"She's been lost in the shuffle for most of her life..." but KC focuses on consistency, being present, and *really listening* to her mentee. "I’m about her. She is the most important thing to me when I am with her. I am a firm believer in chosen family and friendship, and we are a big part of each other’s lives."
KC is extending her regular routine, life, and heart to her mentee. With this foundation of stability and as the teen gets a little older, KC will focus on academics and the other milestones that will set the teen up for success and change her trajectory in life. 💫
There's this local single licensed foster caregiver who has committed to keeping kids in their community so they have a better chance at reunification:
You see, on any given night on the Olympic Peninsula, there are ZERO beds available for a child that needs a safe place to land.
There is a critical shortage of foster homes where we live, so we do our best to make sure that those who do say YES are supported and kids are kept in their community - near their school & friends… rather than being sent counties and hours away from everything that’s familiar to them.
But while this foster parent's heart and impact on the community are huge, his house is only like 500 sqft. One of the needs that was identified to make life easier for him as a caregiver and for the kids in his care was MORE SPACE.
This sweet couple in Angels shirts is part of the Love Box group of volunteers that have been scheming for years now on how to make this happen...
Lexi has been a volunteer since Olympic Angels' beginnings in 2019. When she recently joined this caregiver's Love Box group, her husband Chris saw an opportunity to lend his carpentry skills to transform the garage into a fun, safe, and functional hang space.
Thanks to generous in-kind donations from local businesses:
The youth currently in this home is thrilled to be a part of creating a legacy for all of the kids who will stay there in the future. Best of all - they get to stay in their community, near their friends, and have the most epic sleepovers!
(Yay for normal childhood experiences even though they are in a very abnormal situation!)
To this Love Box group, giving more space and a spot that felt dedicated to youth seemed needed and like the right thing to do. In a city with very few places for teens to hang out, they view it as an investment in the community that will reach far beyond this current foster placement.
Olympic Angels volunteers show up, are resourceful, get creative, and invest generously so that caregivers can continue saying YES to keeping kids in their community.
Investing in the foster care community will have ripples for many years to come.
It was early Friday morning - the girls still bleary-eyed in bed when the social worker told them "get your toothbrush, pack your things - you've got to go now..."
...they were being moved again. It was the girls’ eighth move since they’d entered foster care. But this time - because of their Love Box - it was different.
This time, instead of calling the police to remove them, they called the Love Box Leader.
This time, instead of the girls going into another foster placement, another stranger’s home, or spending the night in a hotel or group home, the girls went with their Love Box Leader - back to her house.
Back to their own bunk bed.
This is one of our favorite stories from our programs. To us, this is evidence that Love Box can change the experience of foster care one child at a time.
These sisters have been matched in our Love Box program since the summer of 2020. Everywhere they have been moved, Love Box volunteers have followed.
Among the group of volunteers, the girls have a special connection with one woman who is a steadfast and deeply committed mentor.
When the children were reunited with their biological family who lived two hours away, the Love Box made a plan to stay connected to the children. The Love Box leader got bunk beds so the kids could have the consistency of weekends with her. This also gave their single parent who had never parented much-needed support and regular breaks.
When, DCYF (the Department of Children, Youth, and Families) made the decision to abruptly remove the girls from this placement, they called the Love Box Leader.
She was able to keep them for the weekend and into the week while DCYF made a plan for where they could go next. She took off work, kept them stay on track with their school work, and helped them understand what was happening.
The Love Box Leader helped lighten a very traumatic event - suddenly losing their parent who they had hoped to never have to leave again.
Changing schools - again.
Moving to a new town - again.
Their whole world changing - again.
The Love Box was key in softening this new trauma and helping the girls transition to their next home:
This Love Box group continues to see the girls weekly, and they are helping the sisters keep a photobook to make sense of all these moves and twists of foster care.
Their relatives wanted all of it gone and none of it gone.
They had taken the children and all that came with them into their home and hearts. Now they were leaving. Parts of foster care can be almost unbearable as a caregiver, and just unimaginable as a child to experience. Moving suddenly from one home to another is one of those moments.
The whole situation would shut down any adult, but having a child go through it is inconceivable. Having the Love Box volunteer’s help packing the kids allowed the foster mom to focus on keeping herself steady through the grief. The volunteer could focus directly on the kids. She talked with the kids and let them lead her in the packing their things so it made sense to them and they had some control - Harry Potter books with Harry Potter stuff, and so on…
After packing up nearly three years' worth of their precious belongings into a moving truck, the brother triple-wrapped the framed photo of him and his Love Box "grandpa” in his Hogwarts scarf. He put it in its own box, took a sharpie and wrote, fragile. fragile. fragile, all around the box. He insisted it ride in the front passenger seat of the moving truck.
A few days later, two volunteers jumped into the truck and caught an early morning ferry to drive 150 miles round trip to meet the kids at their mom’s house.
When they got there, the volunteer humbly asked to continue being in the kids’ lives. She wrote, “our heart is to celebrate your family” and asked for permission to keep in touch with her kids. She wanted to restore some of that power to the parent. Their mom accepted.
Parents who have had their children go through the foster system want what the rest of us parents want- they want healthy adults in their kids’ lives.
Once kids enter the foster care system, on average they move seven times in two years. When possible, their Love Box volunteers "move" with them. Each child and family's situation is different, but our volunteers are committed to the children they are matched with. They are bonded, and no matter how much time or how many miles separate them, they leave marks on each others' lives indefinitely.
When those kids went back home to their mom, the volunteers slipped a stack of pre-stamped envelopes into the boy's guitar case. They called and texted the kids' mom to share who they were and the things they had done together while they were in foster care, and they asked permission to keep loving them.
Even though the kids live a couple of hours away now, they still call, text, and write their Angels. And the Love Box volunteers think of and miss them every day.
Darlene was a foster parent earlier in her life. She had a son, but always felt like she had more to give.
We asked her what her foster care experience would have been like if she’d had a group of Love Box volunteers supporting her. Her response without hesitation: “amazing. Amazing - I was totally lost.”
The first placement - brothers - came from a household with addiction and neglect. The boys were so insecure about food that when she would go to say goodnight, Darlene would find pillows stuffed with food. It took a long time for them to learn that food would be there tomorrow.
They lived on five acres in a real country setting - they rode motorbikes, explored, and had a real childhood when they were with Darlene. Eventually, those boys went back to live with their mother. But Darlene would still get panicked phone calls “mom’s doing it again - can you come get us?”
Their time with Darlene was so powerful and pivotal, that when one of the boys was in his late 30s, he showed up at their house (where Darlene’s son now lives) hoping to reconnect with her family.
Darlene also served as a Guardian ad Litem for girls who had experienced sexual abuse in Snohomish County. It was excruciating at times, but it allowed her to advocate for kids in a whole new way as they navigated the foster care system and their trauma.
Sarah was an 11-year-old girl that Darlene worked with until she aged out of foster care. Sarah went through many foster homes, case workers, and would call Darlene at 2am after she’d run away again. Darlene was always there for her.
Twenty years later, Sarah tracked her down three states away and went to visit Darlene. And then again after Darlene had moved back to Washington. By then Sarah had a daughter and invited Darlene to her 6th birthday celebration. At this party, a woman approached Darlene and explained that she was Sarah’s best friend - they’d both been in foster care and had bonded. Every time the friend would tell Sarah a rough story from her childhood, Sarah would say “I just wish you could have had a Darlene in your life.”
Darlene was Sarah’s person - at times, the only person that was there for her. And that can make all the difference for a child. Knowing this is Darlene’s motivation now.
As a Love Box Leader, she wants to support caregivers so they aren’t overwhelmed and can be a child’s “someone” just like she has had the opportunity to be.
Consistent support from volunteers like Darlene keeps caregivers from becoming overwhelmed. A stable household means kids can stay in their community - their school, with their friends, near their parks, and all that is familiar.
Darlene’s Love Box group is currently matched with grandparents providing kinship care for two little girls. The couple had been retired and on a set income. They absolutely love the girls, but it’s been a struggle. The Love Box group has helped with projects around the house to make their lives easier and the environment safer for the kids.
Last month they coordinated a huge cleanup of the family’s property (after it had been overrun and trashed by squatters). The volunteers worked side-by-side with the family for hours, and a huge trailer hauled the debris away.
Darlene knew how much the dirty old carpets bothered the family - especially with the baby starting to crawl. Grandma Cathy didn’t want to put her down on that floor. Darlene took it upon herself to reach out to the flooring manager at Home Depot in Sequim.
“I told her that I am a volunteer from Olympic Angels and I explained that in this area we need foster homes and our goal as volunteers is to support families so they don’t feel overwhelmed and they stay foster homes. Because many foster kids get sent out of the area and then they’ve lost connections and school and friends and children’s lives being uprooted is really sad. I asked for a discount, but for some reason, what I said hit her really strongly, and she said ‘we’ll do better than that - how many square feet do they need?’”
Home Depot DONATED the flooring so the family and that baby girl have a clean, safe surface to live on.
Darlene says she volunteers for selfish reasons - that giving feels better to her than any gratitude the recipient feels.
Just like Sarah says - we wish all children, youth, and families experiencing foster care could have a Darlene in their lives.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.