Aging out of foster care without a permanent home is the highest-risk outcome for a foster youth. Twenty-five percent of these youth report that they became homeless within two to four years of exiting foster care, according to the national organization CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) for Children.
In an effort to change that reality, 1,100 people joined together to raise money to support Saving Grace of Northwest Arkansas at the annual Butterflies and Blooms luncheon in Rogers on Thursday (April 20).
Saving Grace is a transitional living home in Rogers for young women (ages 17-25) who have aged out of foster care or group homes, are facing homelessness and/or have been abandoned by critical supports. It has served 90 women since it began in 2009.
Ashlyn Gagnon, director of development for Saving Grace, said organizers hoped to raise more than $130,000 from the luncheon. Every dollar donated supports their annual budget of $670,000 since the event was underwritten by Walmart, Coca Cola and other sponsors. Organizers also hoped the event would educate the community about the mission of Saving Grace and the women who call it home.
“More than anything, we hope that people leave (the event) with an understanding of how God is re-writing the stories of the young women of Saving Grace, and how they, along with the rest of the community of Northwest Arkansas, can be a part of empowering hope, healing and generational change,” Gagnon said.
According to their website, Saving Grace provides mentoring relationships, education and resources to bring about lifelong change and tries to instill in each young woman “the things she needs to create a ‘home’ for her own family someday.
At the event, Saving Grace Executive Director Becky Shaffer thanked the community partners, mentors, sponsors and those in attendance for investing in, and making a difference in the lives of the women in the program. She said the community surrounding the young women is what makes the difference.
“Good community heals bad community,” she said.
Shaffer said it’s easy to put people in shelters, but harder to commit to the work to help them change.
“One of the bravest and most daring things you can do in your lifetime is to serve in your own community – a place where the messy can walk right up to your front door and invite themselves in,” Shaffer told the crowd. “It’s the brave choice to go the distance with the broken and wounded, throwing caution to the wind as you invite them into your lives. And I’m so proud of you today, because that’s exactly what you are doing.”
Kimberley Lane is one of the success stories of Saving Grace. Keri Bullington, KLRC radio morning show host, interviewed her during the program. Before coming to Saving Grace, Lane said she did not have a chance to process the trauma she experienced.
“Before I came, I was in survival mode. And when you’re in survival mode, you are literally just surviving. You are living by day by day, sometimes hour by hour, just trying to get through the day,” she said.
“Finally I was in a safe space and wasn’t in survival mode, and so I had time to think about what had happened to me,” Lane said. “That’s not always a fun thing to do.”
Lane said as a result, she struggled with anger and lashed out at those who wanted to help her. Bullington said a few months later she noticed a big difference in Lane’s personality and asked her what made the change. That was almost six years ago. Lane has since graduated from Saving Grace, has a good job, and is engaged to be married in a few months. She said that her life is now on track.
“Saving Grace really changed my life. They changed my direction. Because if I had continued to be in survival mode, and continued on that process, I would not be where I am,” Lane said. “Who knows? Maybe I’d be in a ditch somewhere.”
Lane said she visits weekly with the young women in the program.
“I want to be sure these girls realize there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. This is not an easy program, its something you actually have to work for. You can make it through and be successful,” she said.
Bullington asked her what she would tell a young woman who said that she could make it on her own without help from Saving Grace.
“I would tell her – you’re absolutely right. You do not need people to survive in this world. But you do need people to thrive. And its your choice. You can either just survive your whole life, or you can choose to thrive and make something of it,” Lane said.
Lane said the one life lesson she learned that changed everything for her is that people are good.
“I lived every day believing that everybody was just evil and that’s all that this world had to offer – just evil and you had to survive it,” she said. “And when I went to Saving Grace, I realized that people here were good — good heart, good intent — and weren’t out to get me. It opened up my whole view of the world itself. (Now) I try to look at good people, and be with good people, and not focus on the evil that’s in this world.”