Love, Out of the Box

No one’s ever told me I was doing a good job until you guys came along.”

Those were the recent words of a foster mom, directed toward Gwen Hicks and her organization Amarillo Angels, a nonprofit whose mission is to support children in foster care and their foster families. Hicks is a retired educator who learned directly about the plight of children in the foster care system as a CASA volunteer.

The statistics were overwhelming. More than 2,500 children and youth in this region have been removed from their homes and placed in foster care due to situations like neglect, abandonment or abuse. According to research, only 50 percent of these youth will graduate from high school. One in five will become homeless after they exit the system at age 18. They are much more likely to become teen parents or end up incarcerated. Less than three percent will graduate from college, even though the state of Texas waives tuition at state-supported colleges and universities for foster youth.

And those are just the kids. The foster families who work hard to provide them a loving home—if only temporarily—also face challenges. “Half of new foster homes close in the first year,” Hicks says. “They just don’t have enough support.” As a result, children in the foster-care system move an average of seven times every two years, which harms their educational attainment.

“When you make the decision to start fostering, your social circle drifts away,” Hicks explains, because large families don’t often get invited to people’s homes for dinner or games. 

Amarillo Angels seeks to meet that family need through two programs. The first, Love Box, supports foster families with what Hicks calls “wrap-around” community support. Groups of volunteers, like a Sunday School class, are connected to caregivers and asked to commit for a year. They build relationships, share meals, host game nights and deliver personal care packages to meet practical needs. “Just having someone there who’s not paid to be in the family’s life is incredibly powerful to them,” says Hicks. Currently, Amarillo Angels has 35 families on a waitlist who are seeking a Love Box group.

Another program, Dare to Dream, provides one-on-one mentorship to children (ages 11 to 14) and  youth (ages 15 to 22) in foster care. “We’re just doing everything in our power to help kids who experience foster care to have the best shot at living their best life, achieving goals and meeting dreams,” says Hicks. “That support is just so meaningful. It’s amazing work.”

Amarillo Angels is always seeking groups of people to start a Love Box group, become mentors, or otherwise get involved. “Tell us what you do and we can tell you how you can help,” Hicks says. Learn more about Amarillo Angels at amarilloangels.org. 

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