Brave: Your Story Matters

Last Saturday, May 20th, 35 teen girls in foster care and some of their foster moms gathered at the White Center Salvation Army community center for a one-day empowerment conference called Brave: Your Story Matters. This Brave event was hosted by Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission’s Foster Support Faith Alliance in partnership with the Salvation Army Church. The idea for Brave came out of 7th Street church in Long Beach, California, but this is the first time the event has been replicated in the state of Washington.

The goal of Brave was that churches from all over our region would come together to remind girls ages 12-18 who are or have been in foster care, that they are worth celebrating! 45 volunteers from about 10 different churches spent the entire day showering these girls with love and attention. Did you know that teen girls in the foster care system are vulnerable to violence and coercion into commercial sexual exploitation? It is now estimated that out of all underage youth who are commercially sexually exploited in Seattle, 70% of them have spent time in the foster care system. Brave volunteers sought to remind these girls that they are valuable and loved, and to encourage them to dream big dreams for their future. Girls heard a powerful keynote address from Lisa Barnes, pastor of the White Center Salvation Army Church. Lisa herself is a former foster youth who lived in 37 different foster homes growing up. Lisa told of being a 12-year-old foster child with a bio mom who was a sex-worker and addicted to drugs, and that if she could go back and tell her 12-year-old-self one thing it would be, “You’re not alone.”

Teen girls who came to this event were able to enjoy live entertainment, a carnival with giant inflatable games, free hair cuts & styles from the Beyond Project (a non-profit mobile beauty salon), delicious food, amazingly generous swag bags and raffle prizes as well. Each girl went home with Lisa’s book about her life story and a guided journal. One young girl won a gift card to Target during the raffle and confided that she had never before owned a gift card and was so excited to pick out what she wanted. Our donors truly showered these girls with love and generosity.

Another important component of the event was a resource fair, where girls could gain information about local free services for them to utilize (i.e. job-training programs, summer camps free for foster youth, extra-curricular involvements, etc…)

Because we also wanted to make sure that foster parents felt appreciated for all of their hard work in parenting these girls, we provided a foster parent respite room with snacks, coffee and drinks and even free chair massages. Foster parents also had their own raffle items to win as well and many were truly blown away by our volunteers and donors.

One outcome of this event is that girls were assigned to a small group with other girls to be mentored by a volunteer who desires to show them that life can be different than what they have known. Mentor volunteers committed to meeting with their small group of 3-5 girls once a month for a year to engage in common fun activities together, like art, hiking, baking, etc…

After the event this past Saturday, the Foster Support Faith Alliance has decided to make Brave an annual event. We hope this event will help to change the statistics for girls who end up in the sex industry, or as teen and unprepared moms, and instead, encourage girls to live out their dreams.

-Mandy Neill

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