“Family is kind. Family is a part of your mind, and just to let you know, your family is always with you,” was written on a canvas submitted to this year’s Allies for Teens in Foster Care Art Contest, held at the Wauwatosa Public Library.
From the photos and captions on the Allies for Teens in Foster Care Facebook page, “family” was the center of many entries displayed at the show. Other entries exhibited themes of emerging from pain and finding hope within new friendships.
According to the National Foster Youth Institute, 23,000 children age out of foster care each year in the United States. Without the support of families or agencies, many end up with problems related to substance abuse, incarceration, and teen pregnancy.
Seeking loving families, allies, and supporters, these teenagers want the chance to make meaningful connections to sustain them even when their age forces them out of the system. This is where Allison Byrne steps in.
Byrne is the founder and executive director of Allies for Teens in Foster Care, a volunteer-run 501(c)(3) nonprofit.
Byrne’s background includes experience with both social work and education. She started Allies For Teens in Foster Care after first-hand exposure to the local foster care community.
“I started Allies for Teens in Foster Care after personal experience with the distinct need for foster care for older children in our community. I was shocked to learn there were over 50 group homes for teens in Milwaukee County,” she said. “I started it as a way to get help, goods, and services for teens in foster care while protecting their need for privacy.”
Not only does the organization provide basic necessities, but it also works to increase accessibility and awareness.
“Allies tries to be the safe bridge between highly vulnerable children in foster care and community resources. [The] key to our organization is communication and respect for the adults serving in all worlds of foster care. From the licensee of group home operators to social workers to foster parents, Allies seeks to partner with adults serving our community’s children in foster care,” Byrne said.
Byrne explained the primary programming of Allies for Teens in Foster Care includes:
- Home care drop-offs
- Christmas gift donations
- Education regarding female health and well-being
“[During] Christmas of 2022, with the help of community partners, we gave over 80 teens in foster care Target cards, fully stocked bathroom bags, socks, hats, gloves, and more! Sixteen group homes were also supplied with books, art supplies, cookie decorating sets, games, and more. And we provided gift bags with gift cards, socks, and candy to over 100 caretakers,” Byrne said.
Other memorable moments include providing the teens with shoes, glasses, sports equipment, food, and personal hygiene products.
However, the largest and most successful community event coordinated by Allies for Teens in Foster Care is their annual Art and Poetry Contest.
“Allies art contest winning pieces are displayed at the Wauwatosa Library in honor of Foster Care Awareness Month. Allies provides cash prizes and other awards in multiple categories. This year’s contest theme was ‘Hope Grows Here.’”
Comments about the art show posted on the Allies for Teens in Foster Care Facebook page express feelings of thankfulness, excitement, and inspiration. One young woman even went as far as to say that her sister talked about her winning ribbon the whole ride back.
It’s events like these that make Byrne’s work worthwhile.
“One of the most rewarding and also gut-wrenching things is how amazing and grateful all the teens and adults are for anything we do. The kids are so polite and helpful. Many times, the adult workers cry at a drop-off. We as a community forget about these kids and these adults.”
Nothing sums up the work of Byrne and her Allies team more than an email from Mary Brock in January of 2023. Brock runs a local group home for teens.
“It is because of you and those who give freely that our residents can feel loved and cared for during some difficult times in their lives. Some have family connections, and others have no one to make them feel special and loved. Our agency so appreciates you and those that help support your mission.”
To learn more about Allies for Teens in Foster Care, visit their Facebook page or website, alliesforteens.org.
A special thanks to Annabelle Wooster, a journalism student and volunteer for Allies for Teens in Care, for her guest blog post contribution!