SailFuture is an innovative child welfare program for at risk youth. It combines long-term housing, challenging sailing experiences, an accredited high school, life coaching and job training to transform the lives of some of the most challenging youth in Florida’s child foster care system.
As part of the 2018 Giving Challenge, I partnered up with SailFuture to help tell the untold stories of these youth’s currently in foster care.
Initial Thoughts & Impressions
When I left my cozy apartment in Portland, Oregon; to come live with these young men, I was very ignorant - and had very little patience - I was jumping into a rambunctious, unpredictable environment with little to no privacy.
At times, I felt empathy; as I watched my friends and colleagues get yelled at by a 14 year old boy. Moments like those were flashbacks to my childhood, and it would often put me in uncomfortable situations where I constantly debated interjecting - in some moments I did.
Constantly being yelled at and shrouded with curse words and "he said, she said" statements, I honestly though there was no way getting through to these children. They were so ingrained into the ways of their upbringing and lack of supervision that any objection towards them was interpreted as a loss of control and discipline.
The Reality Of It
I felt defeated and emotionally drained most of the time - imagining the staff having to deal with that on a daily basis. In a typical group home, no staff live in the same household as the children, they take shifts. Come and go as they please, work ends once you step off the property. At SailFuture it’s the contrary, we found that living on the premises, yields better relationships with the children.
After any confrontation, I would constantly ask myself - “how could I have handled that differently? What could I have said differently to where they could reciprocate, like a normal person without anger and frustration.”
These aren’t my kids, I’m not their blood - we are not their blood, they feel no kinship or relation to us. Yet somehow they stick around, and constantly test our loyalty, putting us through hell and seeing how far they can take the situation at hand. In most cases, the louder one wins. Conditioned to think that if they act out and lash out, they get what they want, the solution is always to run, fight, hurt.
I didn't give up, and neither would the staff. Picking up responsibilities around the house, becoming more present, taking them to doctor appointments, assisting in classroom, math, spanish.
Making breakfasts lunches dinners and wishing them a good day as they left to work or sign out. I tried my best to not be an idle body, contributing to the effort as much as I could.
There is a large amount of dedication to the program. The staff would often drop their personal plans and relationships, spend their own money, for the betterment of the children.
I saw the depths of their pains and challenges; I came to realize how important it was to understand their past, in order to understand their present mindset, behavior and outlook on life.
I had two months to create a series of short films that highlighted the resilience, grit, and humanity of these young men fighting to break the foster care to prison pipeline.
At the same time trying to get acquainted with them, earning their trust and loyalty. Getting them to engage with me enough to where they felt comfortable to tell their stories and reveal past hardships and regrets.
Transparency was key - in order for them to feel comfortable and share their story, I needed to reciprocate.
I can't help but feel heartbroken, leaving this place and this newfound family of mine.
To say the least, I have never experienced anything like it. I love these kids, and the community that supports this program.