A couple of weeks ago I and another case manager took a group of five of our young adult clients from our Independent Living Services to a pumpkin farm/apple orchard. You might think this is a fairly routine thing to do in the fall, but for these youth, it was a day they say they will never forget.
We serve young adults 18-25 who have aged out of foster care at 18. That means they were expected on their 18th birthday to be adults, on their own, moving forward with their lives — without support systems. That’s where we come in. We help them by encouraging them to complete their education, get a job and a place to live, open a checking account, etc. We provide the things that teens from regular family backgrounds would learn at home.
These are the basics. Something like going to a pumpkin farm was way beyond the ordinary for these youth. This was the first farm they had ever been to, and the 2-year-old son of one of them was beyond excited.
See, our ILS participants are sort of like kids in that they didn’t get the chance to do things other kids did. Just the prospect of going was a big deal to them. Several came to SaintA earlier than expected, and they were really ecstatic. Driving to the place, Barthel Fruit Farm Mequon, gave us more time to talk, sing, listen to music and have fun.
We take our participants there every year, so when we got there, the lady was so friendly and nice to us. She set it up so that everybody could sample each of their apples – and there were about 20 kinds! Then we bought a bag of their favorite kind for each participant, plus a caramel apple. They didn’t want to leave the apple building, but it was time to go on, and the toddler was getting pretty restless.
When we headed to the pumpkin patch, those little feet were really moving! Other people at the farm were coming up to him and talking to him. Some had dogs, and he got to pet the dogs. Everybody got to pick out a pumpkin, and our participants were pretty selective . No dents for them! They wanted nice, big round ones.
We packed all the pumpkins in our cars then went to McDonald’s. We didn’t take food out; we sat together like a family and ate together. Family unity is a big part of ILS, so a small thing like this means a lot.
On the way back in the car, all I heard was how much everyone liked the day, how they had never done something like this before, how no one had ever done something like this for them before. (And they really liked McDonald’s!)
This was my third trip and it has gotten better each year. Some of the participants who went this year have been with us awhile, and longevity means something. They were all really respectful and really appreciative, and everything was sincere, genuine.
The day was all about connection, and connection is the thing these young people lack, miss and really need. And although it was a long day for me, I was just happy to be around all of them. It’s a day I will never forget, too.
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