Human Interest

Florida couple runs nonprofit for teens aging out of foster care

foster care

Turning 18 is a milestone for any child. Adulthood is on the horizon, and with it, adult responsibilities. But children who have spent their lives in the foster care system and will soon age out may be ill-prepared to face the steep challenges ahead of them. Cindy Tilley and David Tyler, a husband and wife team, are the founders of an organization for these children in this stage of life: Forgotten Angels.

Forgotten Angels is a non-profit dedicated to a portion of at-risk older children and young adults who frequently age out of foster care but still require help and a safe place to land while they figure out their new lives. According to the National Foster Youth Institute (NYFI), 20% of the youth who age out of foster care have no place to go – they are homeless at the age of 18. With 23,000 aging out nationally every year, that’s a huge number of youth who simply need roofs over their heads. Half also struggle to gain employment before the age of 24. And having not grown up in a typical home, many have yet to learn basic life skills.

“They just throw you out into the real world,” Jason Cook told Fox 13. Jason’s foster care arrangement ended suddenly on his 18th birthday. “They just say you’re an adult now.”

“A lot of the kids that we get that are coming out of foster care, or they’re at risk, or they’ve been homeless, they don’t have their high school diploma, their GED, their driver’s license, they don’t have any of these things,” Tilley said, according to ABC Action News. “So it’s so important that they end up in a place like Forgotten Angels because you have to move them forward in a positive way, or they’re going to be out there on the streets homeless. And that’s no place for kids to be.”

Forgotten Angels helps those new to adulthood with their education, employment, and financial literacy. They also help them build credit, find a job, purchase a vehicle, and navigate the tough new requirements of adulthood. The organization’s property sits on about 12 acres near Valrico, Florida. According to the organization’s website, the children who come to them get their own tiny home on the property to tend.

Residents stay as long as they need to while they learn these life skills. “It’s on a case-by-case basis,” said Tyler. “Whatever their needs are, we provide whatever we can do to move them forward, we do.”

The work is difficult, but it’s a rewarding calling both for Tilley and Tyler. “I don’t have any biological children of my own,” Tyler told Fox News 13, “so to be called dad, to be told that — you mean, I wanted to tell you first about this or that or anything that had happened that was important or significant to them, [and that] means the world to me.”

But the best reward is seeing when these young people pay it forward. A recent Facebook post noted of a past resident:

Frederick came home yesterday to visit for a bit. He is doing incredible! He works hard, living in his own place. The best part [is that] he is in such a good place in his life that he was able to take in a friend who was homeless and help him get on his feet. This is the trickle down effect. He is now doing so well he is able to help others! Making the world a better place.

For Tilley, the mission of Forgotten Angels is especially important. “For me, it’s personal because I lived it,” Tilley told ABC Action News. “I was placed in foster care in fourth grade, and I left the system when I was 17, and I don’t know how to put it, but it’s very, very scary out there when you don’t have a safety net. That sense of community and belonging is the most important thing you can do with anyone.”

“I just had this conversation with one of my young men last night. And I asked him, I said, ‘What do you think would happen if you hadn’t come to Forgotten Angels?’ Because he’s getting ready to move out. He’s got his own apartment,” explained Tilley. “And when you first met him, he wouldn’t even look you in the eyes. Now he’s smiling. He’s got a girlfriend. He’s going to get married. He said, ‘I’d probably be dead,'” she recalled.

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