Women of the Northwest

Celeste Bodner: The Power of Peer Connections in Foster Club

April 02, 2024 Celeste Bodner Episode 91
Celeste Bodner: The Power of Peer Connections in Foster Club
Women of the Northwest
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Women of the Northwest
Celeste Bodner: The Power of Peer Connections in Foster Club
Apr 02, 2024 Episode 91
Celeste Bodner

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In this episode, Celeste Bodner, founder of Foster Club, shares her journey and how it led to the creation of a national network for young people in foster care. 

What started as a personal experience of becoming a foster parent turned into a mission to provide support and resources for young people who navigate the foster care system. 

The conversation delves into the challenges and successes of Foster Club, including the role of peer connections and lived experience leaders. 

Bodner emphasizes the importance of holding space and bringing people together to create positive change. 

Through Foster Club, young people in foster care are given a platform to share their stories and advocate for policy changes. 

This episode is a testament to the power of community and the impact one person can make in the lives of others.


Subscribe to the Women of the Northwest podcast for inspiring stories and adventures.
Find me on my website: jan-johnson.com

Show Notes Transcript

Send us a Text Message.

In this episode, Celeste Bodner, founder of Foster Club, shares her journey and how it led to the creation of a national network for young people in foster care. 

What started as a personal experience of becoming a foster parent turned into a mission to provide support and resources for young people who navigate the foster care system. 

The conversation delves into the challenges and successes of Foster Club, including the role of peer connections and lived experience leaders. 

Bodner emphasizes the importance of holding space and bringing people together to create positive change. 

Through Foster Club, young people in foster care are given a platform to share their stories and advocate for policy changes. 

This episode is a testament to the power of community and the impact one person can make in the lives of others.


Subscribe to the Women of the Northwest podcast for inspiring stories and adventures.
Find me on my website: jan-johnson.com

[00:07] Jan: Are you looking for an inspiring listen? Something to motivate you? You've come to the right place. Welcome to Women of the Northwest, where we have conversations with ordinary women leading extraordinary lives. Motivating, inspiring, compelling. Welcome to episode 91. In this episode, Celeste Bodner, founder of Foster Club, shares her journey and how it led to the creation of a national network of young people in foster care. What started as a personal experience of becoming a foster parent turned into a mission to provide support and resources for young people who navigate the foster care system. The conversation delves into the challenges and successes of foster Club, including the role of peer connections and lived experience leaders. Bodner emphasizes the importance of holding space and bringing people together to create positive change. Through foster Club, young people in foster care are given a platform to share their stories and advocate for policy changes. This episode is a testament to the power of community and the impact one person can make in the lives of others. I'm really excited to share this episode with you, so let's get started.

[01:24] Celeste: And that really is how I sort of have defined my role with foster club. From now on is my job is really to hold space because I don't have to make everything happen. If I hold the space and bring people together, cool things happen, and that's what it takes, you know? So.

[01:43] Jan: Okay, looks like we are on. Hello. Celeste Bodner, welcome to Women of the Northwest.

[01:50] Celeste: Thanks for having me. Glad to be here.

[01:53] Jan: So you have started a little club, foster club. Tell us about that. And how did that get started? How do you even think about that?

[02:04] Celeste: Wow. Okay, well, yeah, so, foster club. So foster club today is the national network for young people in foster care.

[02:12] Jan: Unbelievable.

[02:13] Celeste: But it started. I'm going to go back and tell the story. That sort of the origin story of how it started had to do with my own personal journey. So back when I was quite a bit younger, my husband and I were in our mid twenties, and we were flipping real estate in north Portland. And at the time, well, my husband's a contractor, and at the time I was in communications. I had my own little agency, mostly worked for Nike, big builder, doing communications projects. And we purchased a property in St. John's in north Portland, which at that time was sort of a poor area of Portland. And we bought a house with three little cottages right next door to it. And I worked from home. So I was working in our house, we were living in the house, and my husband was fixing up the three little cottages because we were going to flip them. And so he would hire day laborers sometimes to help him gut the insides of the house. And he hired a guy who showed up pretty regularly. It was pretty clear he had some his own issues going on, but he showed up pretty regularly. And what started to happen is two boys would come around looking for the guy. His name was Clay. And the two boys, Gary and Terry, would come around looking for Clay because Clay was dating their mom and they weren't able to find their mom. And it became pretty evident pretty quickly that these boys, for instance, they were showing up during school hours, they weren't attending school, and they'd show up in the same clothes repeatedly, day after day. At that point in time, in addition to my work, my volunteer activity was coaching sports. I played a lot of sports growing up in seaside and. And loved to coach sports, too. And I like young people. And so I was coaching volleyball, basketball and track at Roosevelt High School. And so I was sort of naturally drawn to when this ten and twelve year old boy would come up and looking for Clay. I'd strike up a conversation and start talking to them. And that turned into giving them some snacks. And then one day, it turned into they stayed for dinner because we couldn't find Clay and we couldn't find anybody else to return them to. How old were they then? They were ten and 1210 and twelve. Yeah. And then it turned into an occasion where they stayed overnight because we couldn't find anybody to bring them back to. And that was scary to me, that these two boys were staying overnight, and I had not met the mother at that point in time. And it was very clear at that point that this was not an okay situation. At that time, I decided to call CPS. And I had the same apprehension about calling CPS that I think most of the public has. Like, oh, my gosh, what's going to happen to these kids? What if they get taken into foster care? But I just decided that the situation was too scary, that I couldn't leave it alone.

[05:09] Jan: Yeah.

[05:10] Celeste: And so we called CPS, and it took about three months. And this happened several times during that three month period where the kids would stay at our house overnight. But after about three months, CPs intervened and removed the boys from their home. And we got a call. Jeff and I got a call, and the caseworker told us that they had asked the boys who the most reliable adults in their lives were. And it was you and it was us. Yeah. We were the most reliable. That's the scary part.

[05:37] Jan: Right.

[05:37] Celeste: It was a scary part. And we were 26 at the time, so, you know, we didn't have. We weren't parents ourselves at that point. Didn't have. Didn't know much about foster care at all at that point. So the Department of Human Services asked us if we would be willing to become emergency foster parents for Gary and Terry. And I asked what that meant, and they said, well, that means that they'd come live with you for 60 to 90 days while we provide the mother with services so that she can get back on track and be able to care for the kids. And at that point, I'd really come to care about these two boys. Right. I like them a lot. And so. And I also thought it sort of sounded fun. Like, it sounded like a, you know, a three month slumber party where they come over and I get to fix up a room. And that sounded sort of fun.

[06:22] Jan: I can fix it.

[06:25] Celeste: So in come Terry and Gary to our house, and Jeff and I had, in order to become emergency foster parents, we were fast tracked, and we had to take 40 hours of training, which we crammed into two weekends. Wow. We got a big binder, big red binder that I still have that helped us navigate the child welfare system, understand paperwork and who to go to for what, and how to understand policies and procedures and so forth. And I also got a long list of experienced foster parents that could help guide me and Jeff through. Right. Through what we would need to understand. Like, if we had questions. And I used that list, if you.

[07:04] Jan: Happen to have some questions.

[07:06] Celeste: Right, exactly. Which happened not just daily, probably hourly, lots and lots of questions. We got all this stuff. And I remember at that point in time being really struck by the fact that Jeff and I were entering foster care as parents and the boys were entering foster care as kids, and we were getting all of this information and all of this training and all of this support for our journey as parents into foster care. And the boys didn't receive, like a pamphlet. They didn't receive anything that explained to them what this journey was, what was happening in this journey. And again, with my communications background and lens, I thought, oh, that's really inequitable, right? Like, that's not really. Like, these boys are capable boys, and they deserve to have their opinions heard and have some input about what was going on. And they didn't have the tools to be able to do that because they didn't understand how the system worked. And so that was sort of the first seed that planted like that. There maybe needed to be something that existed for the young people who were going through this experience called foster care. The second seed happened it was about three years later. Both boys had done the sort of requisite therapy that most kids in foster care have to do. The younger boy loved going to therapy. He loved to talk. So he was. His therapy sessions would run long because he liked talking. The older boy did not like going to therapy. He did not. He thought he was a teen at that point. He didn't like the sort of the stigma surrounding going to therapy and so forth. And what I really thought is that the older boy needed less than, like, one on one therapy, but really he needed a group of peers who were going through the same thing, that he could sort of feel a little bit.

[09:06] Jan: Normal and be in a safe space.

[09:09] Celeste: Like a safe space, like other kids. Normalize the experiences, normalize his feelings about. Normalize, like, the confusion that goes on with being in foster care. Right. We knew that he felt very safe with Jeff and I, and he still loved his mom. And, you know, and there's just a lot of conflict going on for kids in foster care. And so I looked around and couldn't find anything, and I expanded my look. I looked across Oregon and couldn't find anything like that. And so at that point, I guess it was around 1999, had the idea for this concept called Foster Club, which would be an organization for young people. Right. Like, it would be the resource that I had looked for for my boys. And so Foster Club really started as a website. And, you know, and it's sort of a funny thing about it is that I originally it was going to be a magazine because my experience had been in print publications.

[10:06] Jan: Oh, yeah. Yeah.

[10:07] Celeste: And so that's. I thought it was going to be a magazine that was available to young people to explain this. But having done print publication, I knew how difficult, how expensive that was, and I also knew how hard it would be to distribute to kids in foster care who are consistently changing their address.

[10:22] Jan: Yeah.

[10:23] Celeste: And so at that point in time.

[10:24] Jan: Because they didn't have a lot of digital access.

[10:28] Celeste: There wasn't any digital. In fact, the Internet was pretty new. Like, I remember when the, when color became available on the Internet and you could add graphics and so forth. So, so it was pretty new. And actually, one of the pieces of pushback that I got when I shared the idea for Foster Club with folks was they said, well, the Internet is for business. Kids will never be on the Internet. Little did they know the first piece was, well, if kids are ever on the Internet, kids in foster care will never be on the Internet because technology is too hard to access and too expensive. So kids in foster care won't have it.

[11:03] Jan: Yeah.

[11:04] Celeste: So I'm really glad that I didn't take that. But Foster Club started as a website originally. Back in. I built the web. I learned code myself. Yeah. In 2000.

[11:14] Jan: Of course you did.

[11:16] Celeste: It wasn't that hard back then. There were like 13 different commands that you needed to know. It's pretty easy. And so set up the first website on your commodore. Yeah, exactly. It was actually. It was one of the original Mac. I've been Mac this whole time, so it was a little bitty. Yeah. And so set it up. My sister helped me and we set it up. It was literally a kitchen table project. And all of a sudden we started getting traffic from all across the country. And I got a call from a foundation who was working specifically on older youth issues in foster care. And they said, you know, we've been watching your website because we did a focus group of young people. They had brought a whole group of young people together and asked them what they needed most. And the young people said that they needed a website that they could go to to get information.

[12:06] Jan: Yeah.

[12:07] Celeste: And they asked those young people what their favorite website was. And Foster club came up in their top. In their top five list. Yeah. It was like Sports Illustrated at that time. There was like teen.com or something and foster club. And it came up. And so we got on the radar of a foundation and they provided us our first funding of $180,000 in 2000.

[12:28] Jan: Wow.

[12:29] Celeste: And that was. And that was the start. Yeah, and that was the start of the organization. It's a lot then went a little bit more, right? Yeah, a lot now, but. But even more then. And that allowed me to transform foster Club really into a going entity. And, you know, at that point in time, we were still sort of, you know, it was. I always considered myself sort of a social entrepreneur. I thought I saw this problem and said, oh, I can do something about this problem. I can do something about work towards solving the problem. Correct. And for the first, actually, I would say probably almost for the first decade, Foster Club has been very entrepreneurial and figuring out what it wants to be in the world. And my sort of commitment from the very beginning was to hear from the young people themselves what Foster Club needed to be for them. And that is how the organization has grown up to where it is today.

[13:26] Jan: So what were the things that the kids were saying?

[13:28] Celeste: Yeah. So it has been consistent that young people need information to understand how to navigate foster care. The child welfare system is very opaque. It is hard for adults to understand how to navigate it, and it is even more difficult for young people to understand how to navigate it. So that was sort of core to the idea to begin with and has remained a focus for Foster Club. A piece that we learned a little later on was, well, and then the other thing I would say, that's core. That was core then and remains core today, is this idea of peer connections or finding other young people who've gone through the system. And that proved out to be that it actually, like, sort of, as I theorized that it would be, is that that actually is, like, one of the highest value items that young people who are involved with foster Club take away.

[14:30] Jan: From it, and then those become actual leaders.

[14:34] Celeste: So that came a little. Yeah. So what came a little bit later? So it was around 2003, we were doing different events for young people to bring young people together in, like, at camps and conferences and things like that. And at that point in time, I had my sister and all my friends volunteering to put on these camps and conferences, and we were doing it around Oregon. We were doing all these camps and conferences, and word got out that what foster Club was doing was very cool and very different than what was normally done in child welfare. Our camps and conferences look more like a cool sports camp or a church youth group camp. Right. Very interactive, very fun. Really focus on relationships and peer connections. Less about. Here's how you fill out an apartment application, less instructional, less school. And so word got out that our conferences were really cool. And so I got asked to go and do the same conference in Montana. And I could not talk my sister and my friends to go to Montana. So my solution was, I thought back to the young people that I had met at these Oregon conferences, and I identified three young people who had sort of demonstrated great leadership skills. So I rose up among a group of youth. Right. And they had attended the conference several times. So I invited them. I hired them to go to Montana with me on this conference. And I'll tell you, Jan, it was a light bulb moment. It was one of those moments where those young people got in front of their peers. They were putting on all the events, and we actually didn't announce that the three young people were from foster care until near the end. It was at dinner time that we announced that they were from foster care themselves. And you could see the room. You could see this room of young people. Just their faces changed, their expressions changed. They wanted to hear everything that they used as something. Yeah, they wanted to hear. And they sat quietly and listened to these three young people talk about their stories and their experiences and how they had made it to college. And you could see light bulbs go off. You could literally see young people in the audience, their brains click and say, oh, that kid went to college. That must mean I can do it, too. Or, and right after that, I had young people asking me, how do I get to do what those, what that, what those leaders are doing?

[17:05] Jan: Oh, my gosh.

[17:06] Celeste: And so that was a big, pivotal moment for Foster club, and at that point made the decision that that is how we would do our work moving forward.

[17:13] Jan: And at that point, didn't you just feel like, I am doing the right thing?

[17:18] Celeste: Well, it just clicked into, it was just very clear and it was, well, frankly. And to, like, not take away, like, sort of the heartstrings out of it, but from my practical sort of mindset, having run businesses before and having looking at sort of the return on investment. Right. I was like, actually, this is a better method of communicating with young people is to have their peers speaking to them as an adult. They sort of tune me out. And I've come to learn the reason they tune me out is young people in foster care, for good reason have a large distrust for adults. They've been let down by a lot of adults in their lives. And so in order for me to communicate well with a young person from foster care, I have to cross a trust bridge.

[18:07] Jan: Well, and besides that, you have to have a longer, don't you have to have a longer term relationship to be able to make that happen?

[18:14] Celeste: Yeah, I can't because of the trust, too. Because of the trust.

[18:16] Jan: Are you going to be there for me if I really start this, if I take this step out, right. To do this thing that I'm not really sure about, who's really going to be there for me, right.

[18:26] Celeste: Because this is. And because this has happened to them, right, their experiences leading into foster care. But also while they're in foster care, you know, young people in foster care are matched over and again to new caseworkers, new foster parents, new therapists, right. All these different people that they get matched to and who then move on, lead their lives, right. And so they have good reason to distrust. But what happened is when the three young people, which we now refer to as lived experienced leaders, when those three lived experienced leaders are talking to them, there is no trust bridge. They're immediately able to start conveying information. You're one of us. And they can speak at a level. And so just from a communications standpoint, they're a better messenger than I ever can be. So they have one up on me.

[19:13] Jan: And they get it. They totally get it.

[19:14] Celeste: They totally get it. So from then on, we started doing our work that way. And something that's sort of miraculous that came out of that is that we discovered not only were these lived experience leaders, better messengers, better at doing this particular aspect of the work, the lex leaders themselves gained a huge amount from the work, from being able to contribute. And we've now sort of dialed down. That we figured out is the reason for that is kids in child welfare are sort of conditioned, or kids in foster care are conditioned to only see themselves as recipients of service. And when you put them in a position to be providers of service, that they actually can make a contribution, it's a game changer. It really sort of flips the script over how they see themselves, that they don't have to only be the recipient of service, that they can also be a provider service. It's a very empowering experience to change, to turn that corner. And so since that time, so we started our first internship in 2004, and since that time, we've been engaging either through internships or different service activities, we've been engaging lived, experienced leaders. And today we have about 260 active, lived, experienced leaders in our leadership corps who then serve about 35,000 young people in foster care. Who care. Yeah. And so it's been really fun to see it grow. Yeah.

[20:43] Jan: That's extraordinary.

[20:46] Celeste: Thank you. It's very fun. I think it's fun to be along for the ride. That's how I look at it is like this journey. These things sort of presented themselves, and I think this is one of the main things that I've learned, you know, by being open and listening and watching to see what happened, being a good observer, there's tons of opportunity to be able to help. You know, one person introduced me to this idea of holding space, and that really is how I sort of have defined my role with foster club from now on is my job is really to hold space because I don't have to make everything happen.

[21:22] Jan: Right.

[21:23] Celeste: If I hold the space and bring people together, cool things happen, and that's what it takes, you know, so. And by observing and listening, I can then help improve the work that the organization is doing.

[21:36] Jan: So where you spread from Oregon to other states?

[21:40] Celeste: Yeah, we're all over the country, so we're a national network now. We tend to always start in Oregon. We have a fantastic relationship with Oregon DHS. We pilot, like, when we have a new program or if we want to create a new publication or do a new thing. We almost always connect with the state of Oregon first and pilot something in, you know, in a county within Oregon or at the Oregon state level and then take it from there and grow nationally. Yeah.

[22:11] Jan: How do you take something, an idea and get it to the next level of something, you know? So you started, you've got this idea, we need to do something with this to make things better for kids and to do whatever. What are some of the processes you had to go through?

[22:29] Celeste: Yeah, it's a good question. So my background actually had been, I'd not run a nonprofit organization previously. I'd run my own company previously. So as sort of entrepreneur and had different business ideas. Some worked, some did not work. And I think I'm pretty practical when it comes to business ideas. I'm just as happy to, if an idea doesn't work, I want to test that and test it fast so that I can move on to another, better idea. So, foster club, to start with, we were just testing a bunch of different things. We were trying it this way, and some things worked and some things didn't, and that's okay. Part of my sort of the way I operate in figuring out the next step is to try things. If you try it, but the analysis is, the really important thing is you pick it apart. You have to be willing to be critical of your own ideas and your own actions and be able to say, yeah, that didn't quite hit it. I would do it different next time. And it's this process of trial and error to move yourself forward. I also had to surround myself with some good mentors because I did not know how to run a nonprofit. I found people who were really good at running nonprofits. And so some of those mentors were live folks, people that I introduced myself to. Some of it was through reading and learning, just from written materials, case studies and things like that. As much as I could, I actually didn't know that much about child welfare, so I had to find so connect myself to some experts. I mean, I had my experience coming in as a foster parent, but I've also always considered that sort of a gift. The fact, I think if I would have, for instance, if my education or career background had been child welfare, I don't think foster Club would be what.

[24:27] Jan: It is today because you'd have been tainted by a different.

[24:31] Celeste: I would have listened to researchers and academia. Right. And so because of how foster club came up, I had a lot of learning to do, and most of my learning came from the young people. And so I heard things differently than I think if I would have learned through a textbook. Not that I think there's a place for research in academia.

[24:52] Jan: Right, exactly.

[24:52] Celeste: But for the foster club, it worked better. It was sort of a gift that I didn't have that background and that I had to sort of make myself available and open to learning from people who had lived through the experience to hear.

[25:06] Jan: So then how are you starting them in different states? You went to Montana. That was probably your 1st second one that you started.

[25:14] Celeste: Yeah. So our process in figuring out what foster. So today, foster Club, we do two things. So one is we still have our youth services program area. So that's all of the direct support to young people who are coming through the foster care experience. So we provide training for them, we do peer support for them. So that's all the direct support to a young person on the ground that's going through foster care. The other piece that came a little bit later, it was around 2007 that we got involved in doing advocacy to change public policy. So what we found out was that, well, actually what happened is there, so there were efforts at that point in time to reform the child welfare system. And they had been working since the late 1990s, early two thousands. There was kind of a think tank of really impressive people who had thought about what needed to change with the child welfare system. And they had been pushing hard, doing a lot of advocacy to get some legislation passed that actually would change mostly how child welfare is funded because the funding is actually what sort of screws some stuff up. And so this think tank had been working at this and had sort of just hit sort of a standstill. They just couldn't get over a hump. And so the people running that campaign had come across our website and had read what some of our young people were saying about their experiences in foster care, and they contacted me and said, hey, sluss, do you think some of your young people would want to share those experiences with members of Congress? I'm like, you know, at that point, again, the entrepreneurial spirit is like, I don't know, let's test that out. Let's try it. Let's ask them. Right? And they did. And so we did some training and some support, and that's gotten really strong. A strength of ours is to be able to prep young people, to be able to, you don't want to put a young.

[27:13] Jan: It's a lot of boldness to do that.

[27:15] Celeste: It takes boldness, and you don't want to put a young person like you don't want a young person to feel like to go in and regret what they've said to a member of Congress. They're vulnerable. Yeah. They're vulnerable. Yeah. There's a whole bunch of considerations. Yeah. So we did that training, we did that prep. At one point in time, one year, we flew maybe 250 young people to Congress to speak to their senators and representatives about their experiences in foster care. And that led to the largest piece of legislation to have passed in multiple decades. And lots of people credited are young people for having be what sort of pushed things over the line, you know, moved things over the line. And since that time, actually, young people from foster Club have been responsible for, I'd say, five major pieces of legislation passing lots of different things, ranging from young people having the right to know their rights while they're in foster care, for young people to be able to stay connected to their siblings when they're in the system. Like, all those laws were passed by our young people talking to members of Congress. And the fantastic thing is today is that Congress calls us. We don't have to, like, they call us before they are doing child welfare legislation. It really helps. We used to have to talk our way into meetings, sort of those high level meetings, because people weren't sure that young people would have something meaningful to contribute. And now they recognize. Now they recognize that they actually can't do the thing unless they consult with young people with lived experience. So that's super exciting. Wow. So those are the two. Those are our two areas that we do. So we do direct support to young people who are going through the foster care experience, and then we organize and elevate their voices so that the system can get better. So those are the two things we do. And the way we. So we have sort of this ad hoc network. So we work with all the states, practically all the states, and we have lived, experienced leaders all over the country. They're across the country more recently. What we're trying to figure out is how do we take what foster Club does and empower a community, have its own foster club, its own version of foster club that is community based, because that would make more sense. And so that's part of what we're doing now in counties, there's more ownership, and it's better for the lived experience leaders that exist here in a community to be able to connect to adults that also live in the community, because that does something for both the adults and the young people.

[30:00] Jan: Right?

[30:00] Celeste: Yeah. Right. So that's the, that's the problem that we're chewing on right now and working.

[30:04] Jan: To figure out, so are you as like, are you the national leader of all estates or. They each have. Yeah.

[30:14] Celeste: And so then we're the national. So foster clubs model moving forward. So this is national headquarters. It's right here in seaside. And it's just because it's where I live. So, yeah, this is the side, and I don't like to fly very much. So, yeah, so we're right here. And. And we do envision a day where foster club serves. It's in sort of like an association model where this sort of loosely networked group of clubs or groups all over the. And right now there are grassroots groups that are affiliated with us groups. Sometimes they're called youth advisory boards, sometimes they're youth leadership groups. And we do lots of training and technical assistance for those groups so they can sort of replicate what foster club does in their own state. Usually those are state based groups, but we're really trying to drill down to a community based kind of approach.

[31:03] Jan: Yeah. And so when you do your training, are you writing your training video in it and doing whatever? How do you throw that down in the world?

[31:14] Celeste: Yeah, so we have curriculum, and our curriculum is unique in that it's designed for young people, but to be delivered by young people. So it follows our model. So it's not training designed for a teacher to deliver to their people. Right. So. So we have our own curriculum. It's called spark curriculum. Yeah. And. Yeah, then.

[31:35] Jan: And are the kids helping write that they do?

[31:37] Celeste: Yeah, they consult. Of course they are.

[31:38] Jan: I already knew that answer before.

[31:40] Celeste: I think we do. It's integrated into all the stuff we do. Yeah, yeah.

[31:43] Jan: And what about your two boys?

[31:45] Celeste: Oh, Gary and Terry. So, yeah, so our family. So Gary and Terry grew up with us. They stayed with us with a learning curve because, again, we became parents to teenagers right off the bat. Right. So that was tough. What we came to know is that Gary actually had pretty significant developmental delays, caused, it was believed, by his mom doing drugs in utero, and that affected him. And he had really hard time in school and so forth. Gary was just lovely. And he, there were parts of Gary that were just so fantastic, but he had this developmental disability that would lead him to feel like an outcast among his peers all of the time. And because of that, he was often bullied and he just had a really hard time fitting in. He was capable, but not quite capable enough to do the things that other kids wanted to do. And so Gary stayed with us until he was 21, but at that point, he, in his struggle to find people, his people, he found the people that he could fit in best were people on the street. And unfortunately, and against our begging, he moved to Portland, into downtown Portland, and he ended up overdosing on what we think was his, probably his first time doing heroin. He was terrified of drugs, so he actually didn't, didn't start drinking or doing any drugs until he had been on the street for several years. But he found his people. He found people where he didn't feel like an outcast. And so unfortunately, he died in 2014, a heroin overdose, which was tough. His older brother Terry is doing fantastically well. He's now in his mid thirties. He is married, and he and his wife are parents to three beautiful girls who we are proud to be grandparents of. They bought their house in Grants Pass. Gosh, I think it was probably seven years ago. So they're homeowners and does they do.

[34:04] Jan: Things with foster or not? No, not.

[34:06] Celeste: They've got their hands full. Yeah. Yeah. They've got three girls.

[34:09] Jan: I was just curious.

[34:10] Celeste: Yeah, no, they're not. They don't really. Yeah. And I think, you know, I think what is interesting and being connected to my own kids now, Terry's one of my own kids, is you realize that the experience of going through foster care sticks with you.

[34:26] Jan: Oh, yeah.

[34:27] Celeste: Into adulthood. Like, it isn't a thing that goes away. And so I think there's still some reconciliation going on there and figuring that piece out. Yep. So he's doing great. While Gary and Terry were living with us, Jeff and I had our own biological child, and so she's now 24 and doing well. And while Lucy was still a baby, we had another boy come to us. He was living in a group home in Astoria, and the group home got closed down, and they were going to move him to Portland for lack of homes available in this area, which meant he would have to leave his Astoria high school. And he was doing well in school. He was a popular kid, and that was just going to tank him, really. And I had met him at one of these teen conferences that were put on, so I knew the kid anyways. And so DHS, we at that point, weren't doing more foster care, but DHS asked if we would make an exception, and so we said yes. But we want Seth to choose us. So let's do an interview first. Let's have a discussion first. He can interview us. And so we did that. And he chose that. He wanted to come live with us. And so Seth grew up with us. So he came and moved in with us when he was 15 and stayed with us. And he's now in his mid thirties. He's married, also a homeowner, and he graduated from Oregon State University. And he actually has a fantastic job. His career is in recreational forestry. Who knew that was actually a thing? That's what he does. And they just had their first baby just a little less than a year ago. She's going to be a year old. So we're also grandparents. A little Paige. And then our last kid came to us. There was another instance. We got a call from DHS locally that they had a baby that had come in and did not look like it was going to be a return to mom type of case. And we had told DHS we'd be interested if a younger child was up for adoption. And he came into us, and Chris did come in and went back and forth between us and his mom. At one point, we actually advocated for mom because that seemed like the best answer at that time. And when that didn't work out and he came back into care, she bravely, heroically terminated her own parental rights so that we could adopt. We had said that it was just too hard on our family to have him bouncing back and forth. And so she let go so that we could adopt him. And we've sort of co parented as he's grown up, but he's doing great. He's in Portland. He's a chef. Yeah, he's a young 20 something. Figuring out adulthood.

[37:17] Jan: Tell us about kids that are aging out of foster care.

[37:20] Celeste: Yes, there's about 20,000 kids each year in the United States age out of foster care. And, man, if there's something we've learned during this pandemic is how unready young people are actually to be solo and on their own. Like, we saw that. We saw how many young people had had to move back home during the pandemic or rely on parent support to get through the pandemic. And interesting. That's what it's like for every single kid in who ages out of foster care all of the time. That's just what it's like. And often young people who age out of foster care are just traveling without any sort of safety net. Like, there's just nothing to fall back on if something goes wrong. And when I say something goes wrong, often it's like a tire blowing out on their car. It's not a huge deal. Yeah, but then the tire blows out, and then they can't show up to work and they don't know what to do, and they don't even know how to call in and make those arrangements with their boss. So then they get fired, and now they don't have an income, and now they can't keep going to school because they can't buy their books. Right? Like this whole thing, avalanche. And then they're homeless, and that's where we are. And so a lot of what foster Club has done is to advocate for longer supports for young people. So we've been pretty successful in getting the age to which young people receive support, get it raised up higher. So states now have the option to support young people, allow them to receive foster care services that are paid for by the federal government up until age 23. And so different. And that looks different. So it doesn't look like being in a foster home necessarily. It can look very different. We've also advocated, for instance, when the Affordable Care act allowed young people to stay on their parents health insurance plan up until age 26. We said, hey, wait, what about young people that don't have the privilege of having a parent with a health insurance plan? And so we were successful. So now young people out of foster care can stay on Medicaid, age 26. Wow. So it's the idea of trying to give a little bit more of an equal footing to young people, a little more of a safety net to young people as they age out of foster care.

[39:40] Jan: Yeah. Yeah. Amazing. What would you say to someone who had an idea and just didn't know what to do, where to start, what to do?

[39:53] Celeste: Yeah. You know, I think some people, some.

[39:56] Jan: People like you and I have ideas all the time. Ping pong like popcorn all the time. But some people have an idea, but they just can't even think past moving ahead.

[40:05] Celeste: Yeah. So I think the first thing is when I, to me, the mark of a good idea is you got to go out and look at what else exists. So I think starting with a scan of what exists in the world already, and I also think talking about your idea to other people is a really good way to get organic feedback, not to sell them on the idea, but to hear their thoughts on your idea. I remember when I started doing that with foster club, people would say, well, that has to exist. There's got to be somebody doing that. And I thought, you know, and then you'd say, yeah, I thought so, too, but there's nobody doing it. So that helps you identify the gaps that exist that you might. Where your idea might fit in. So I think talking about your idea and doing your own scan and research to see what else exists in the world, that to me, that's a first step to gain some momentum and some confidence in your idea. But then I also really believe in mentorship, finding people who can help guide you to those next steps. Because, no, millions of people start businesses. It's just like, so why not you? And you just, I think you have to sort of unlock the key. And I think that's where sort of tenacity comes in, where you just gotta keep going. And when something shuts or doesn't work out, you just gotta figure out your way around it. Having a mentor there with you can give you a lot of confidence about how to do that.

[41:31] Jan: Yeah. Yeah, that's cool.

[41:33] Celeste: Yeah.

[41:33] Jan: One last thing I was going to ask earlier. How was this funded?

[41:37] Celeste: So, foster Club, interestingly, because I was an entrepreneur to start, I was not a nonprofit person. And aside from that first startup grant of $180,000, I just didn't know what fundraising looked like. That was not something I was used to sort of building a product and selling it or selling a service and earning it. And so Foster club actually started it sort of uniquely is that our funding to begin with was almost entirely made up of fee for service or product sales. So we have books for young people that get sold. So we sell about $120,000 worth of publications a year, sometimes more. We do services. So like, we would go and put on conferences, these youth conferences, so states would pay us or an organization would pay us to come put this. So we're doing a lot of that sort of stuff to a point where we actually brought in a consultant at one point, and she said to us in a very, it was a very dramatic presentation to our board of directors because she was in tears and she just said, you guys are doing so much amazing stuff and you're working so hard and you are upside down. Because most nonprofits don't have the earned revenue. That is not usually, usually they die to have earned revenue and they rely almost entirely on donations and grants. And you guys are at that point in time, we are like 90% earned revenue, maybe nine and a half percent grants. And like, we, like, we had like 20 donors at that for our 1st 1012 years, we had 20 donors. And most of them were my relatives or people I knew so and so since that time. And her sort of tearful plea was, you have to understand, people want to help with what you're doing. People want to be people. You have a cause, you have a constituency that people believe in and want to be helped out, and you owe them the opportunity to be a bridge to helping. And that really flipped my sort of thinking about the role of philanthropy and fundraising. Is that our role at Foster club? And we're looking at ways to do this, is how do we build better bridges for citizens who care about kids who are experiencing foster care? How do we build better bridges for them to contribute. Yeah. And so that's worse. And child welfare has not been very good at that, because I think a lot of people think that once a kid goes into foster care, the government's got it.

[44:17] Jan: Right.

[44:18] Celeste: The government's taking care of it, so no need for me. Right, right. And so people. People think that, but that's a myth. That is actually not true at all.

[44:26] Jan: Right.

[44:27] Celeste: And so we need to make a better k, help people understand the needs of kids in foster care and understand their role in providing for some of those needs. And so that's a piece that foster club is taking really seriously. Yeah.

[44:41] Jan: Yeah. My first husband, a brain tumor, and we were kind of like, oh, no, we can do this on our own. Whatever. And then somebody said to me, you know, you rob us of a blessing if you don't allow us to give you.

[44:53] Celeste: That's. It's exactly. Right.

[44:56] Jan: Of trying to make things better for you.

[44:58] Celeste: Right. And it brings people peace. Right. It brings people peace and purpose that they can. That they can be a part of something, you know, something that they believe in and. Or people that they believe in. Yeah, that's exactly. And I had to switch my thinking. My thinking was wrong to begin with. I thought you had to sort of earn everything in this different way. And it took that switch of that. Of that consultant that came.

[45:24] Jan: And so if somebody wanted to donate, they can go on your website.

[45:27] Celeste: They can go on our website, fosterclub.com, where. Happy to. We've. We've had some lovely. We've had two instances now where we've had some large gifts given to us by one, by a man who experienced foster care himself and grew up to have some real estate. And he left real estate to us, which was lovely. And we had another woman who had been a Casa and had always been sort of a champion for kids in foster care. And she knew about foster club, and she left us a large gift, which allowed us to start an endowment, which then sort of make sure that foster Club can be here for kids in perpetuity, you know, beyond me and beyond our staff that it. That the organization exists for them moving forward. Yeah. So, yeah, so we're happy to walk. We're small enough that we, you know, we have a staff of 18 professionals who support this network of lived, experienced leaders. And we're small enough that we're happy to have conversations and have bold ideas from folks that want to come in and, you know, and make a difference however they want to do it.

[46:27] Jan: Yeah, that's awesome. One last question. What would be, like, a motto or something that you live by?

[46:34] Celeste: Me personally?

[46:36] Jan: Yeah.

[46:37] Celeste: Oh, I do have one. So one of the phrases that I really love is from Walt Disney. And that phrase is, it's kind of fun to do the impossible.

[46:52] Jan: I love it.

[46:54] Celeste: Which I think is fun when I think about this brief, weird moment that we get to be alive on earth, walk the planet. And I just. I really believe in making the most of that and having some fun with it and doing what you can for other folks to make their experience here on the planet good. I love it.

[47:15] Jan: I love it. Thank you. This has been fun.

[47:18] Celeste: Thank you. Jan.

[47:21] Jan: I hope you enjoyed today's episode. Thanks again for listening. I'm enjoying these conversations with interesting women. I hope you are. Where else are you enjoying meaningful conversations? How about hitting the follow button? Do you have questions or comments on the episodes? Hit me up on my website, Jan Dash johnson.com. I will answer every email. See you again next week.