Changing Lives with Always Pursue
For many of us graduating high school was an exciting time filled with hope, encouragement from our loved ones, and an overwhelming sense that the future was wide open and just waiting to be conquered. For kids in foster care it is a very different, very scary time.
There are stories like Myra’s that once heard are hard to forget. Myra is a beautiful, smart and kind young woman that has worked hard her whole life to assure that she didn’t make the same mistakes her mother made. The hard work paid off, she was a top athlete in her high school, liked by her peers and graduated summa cum laude of her graduating. When she arrived “home” from her graduation she found her foster parents had packed all her bags and put them on the back porch. She was 18 and graduated and they were moving on to the next foster kid.
I can’t imagine the absolute fear I would feel if I was completely alone in the world. Nobody that was truly there to care about me or encourage me or to catch me at my missteps. Unfortunately, that is the reality for many of the 400,000 kids in the foster care system. Only ½ of them will graduate from high school and only 2% will graduate from college.
6 years ago Angel Reach decided that each teen in foster care in Montgomery County that has graduated high school or received their GED would be celebrated in a way many of them have never been celebrated in their lifetime. That celebration is called Always Pursue. I have helped with Always Pursue for the past 3 years and it has been an absolute gift to work with so many wonderful churches, businesses and people in our community to make the Always Pursue event a very special night for these very special graduates each year.
Angel Reach knows what tremendous odds these young people are up against and what an accomplishment it is for them to graduate high school. According to Child Protective Services (CPS) the average foster child attends 7+ schools over their time in care. They are shuffled from house to house, never really feeling “at home” where they lay their head at night. Many struggle to succeed in school because of their constant moving, lack of parental support, and the fact that they lack many of the tools needed to be a successful student into today’s world. Many foster teens do not have access to a computer at home, which makes being successful in school today very difficult. Most foster teens do not have mentors looking out for their needs and assuring that they are prepared when they turn 18 and “age out” of foster care. Many simply lack the general support that most of us took for granted as teens or even resented at times.
With the help and support of several churches and companies with huge hearts in our community Angel Reach assures that every detail is attended to to make the Always Pursue event a night these young people will never forget.
Many teens don’t have access to formal attire for the event, so The National Charity League, Texas Laurels Chapter runs the “Formal Wear Shop” where the graduates and GED recipients go to get outfitted for the event and also for their proms. The NCL young women go above and beyond finding beautiful dresses, shoes and jewelry for the women and suits, ties, shoes, socks and belts for the men. Many of which are donated by Woodlands residents.
Write Away Stationery donates their design expertise and creates stunning invitations each year. Minuteman Press donates all of the printing for the event, The Blooming Idea creates beautiful centerpieces for the tables, SAM Houston’s Beta Alpha Psi, chapter puts together baskets filled with pots, pans, silverware and other goodies every graduating student needs for their next phase of life. Kris Bistro catered the evening this year, bringing in their head chef, Justin Santellana and his staff to create a meal that Justin wanted to be, “the best meal these young people have ever tasted.”
Organization such as Love Foster’s Hope, Community Youth Outreach, Dave Ramsey, Woodforest Bank, Sam Houston State University and even the Marines all set up informational booths to help the grads as they navigate their next stage of life. Catch The Moment sets up a photo booth where the grads can take cap and gown pictures (gowns generously donated by Herff Jones) and silly pictures as well.
Every year there is a surprise guest, there have been former athletes such as Matt Bullard, a Woodlands resident and former Rockets player and this year Lieutenant General Robert Wilson, US Army Retired gave the graduates words of encouragement before they threw their red caps in the air!
The evening really begins when the doors are opened to the dining room and the string quartet plays “Pomp and Circumstance” as the graduates enter the room filled with flowers, candles and volunteer servers from CASA there to greet them. Next Meghan Anderson opens the night by performing the song, “Angel Reach” which she wrote years ago for those aging out of foster care.
The rest of the evening is filled with great food, inspirational speakers and performers and of course gifts, one of which is a beautiful leather bound Bible donated by MCYO Ministries.
The highlight of the evening for most is the reading of the winning essays. The graduates are asked to write an essay on the topic “How My Past is Shaping My Future”. This year there were 11 entries, 3 of which received a $500 cash prize. Angel Reach doesn’t however just hand them the $500. Each winner must meet with a Financial Advisor at Woodforest Bank prior to receiving their money. The Woodlands United Methodist Church, a huge supporter of the event and host each year also provides each essay winner with free admission to Financial Peace University, empowering the essay winners to understand money and savings as they step into adulthood.
The most exciting part of the night for many of the graduates is when they receive their new laptop computer. Woodforest Bank, The Hauber Foundation alongside members of our community donated the money needed for each graduate and GED recipient to receive a computer! Microsoft has partnered with Always Pursue for the past 2 years in making this dream a reality and goes a step further by offering classes and support to the graduates. These computers open doors for many of these young people. In today’s world it is very hard to achieve without a computer in your home.
The night officially ends as the graduates leave the ballroom to shouting and clapping from the volunteers and members of the National Charity League lining the halls of The Woodlands United Methodist church. One graduate said it best when he said to his “angel”, “I’ve never felt so special in my whole life!”
If you would like to be involved in Always Pursue 2017 please email ARAlwaysPursue@gmail.com