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Culture

Fostering Change: Cabaret Promotes Support for Youth 'Aging Out' of Care

Vancouver celebs share stories tonight to highlight need to help former children in care.

By Katie Hyslop 23 Jun 2016 | TheTyee.ca

Katie Hyslop is The Tyee's education and youth reporter.

Katie's work is supported by ongoing contributions from Tyee Builders and a matching contribution from Vancouver Foundation. Individual Tyee Builders and other supporters neither influence nor endorse the particular content of the reporting. Other publications wishing to publish Katie's work should contact Tyee Solutions editor Chris Wood at cwood[at]thetyee.ca.

The years between 19 and 30 are best described as a time of trial-and-error experiments in adulthood. No matter how well-prepared you were to strike out on our own, chances are you made some dumb moves -- blowing rent money on concert tickets, showing up to work dishevelled and slightly drunk from the night before, serving chicken nuggets for Thanksgiving dinner after forgetting to defrost the turkey.

Most people have someone in their corner, usually parents, to bail them out when the experiment runs off the rails.

But there's little in the way of financial, emotional or community support for foster kids once they've "aged out" out of the system at 19. The little help that is available requires meeting strict criteria and typically ends at 24.

It's not the same as having a support network that cares about you.

The Vancouver Foundation's Fostering Change initiative aims to change this with its ongoing "Write the Future" campaign. In less than two months, the foundation has collected 15,000 signatures on its petition calling on the provincial government to provide former foster kids with predictable financial supports and opportunities to cultivate relationships with caring, non-paid adults and get involved with their community.

To celebrate, Fostering Change is bringing 10 well-known Vancouverites, including comedians Charles Demers and Sarah Bynoe, reporter Angela Sterritt, Bhangra Festival founder Mo Dhaliwal and author Ivan Coyote, to the stage of the Imperial Theatre tonight for the Write the Future: A Story Tellers Cabaret. They'll dish on their adventures in young adulthood -- and the people who got them through it.

"It's meant to be a celebratory event that really gets to one of the things that we've learned, and that's that getting through your 20s, no matter who you are takes support: financial and relationships with people and communities," said Mark Gifford, Vancouver Foundation's director of grants and community initiatives.

"It's normalizing support, which is all we're asking for... for young people who've been in care."

The Tyee caught up with a few of the presenters to ask about the people that helped shape their journeys to responsible adulthood, save their butts, or both.

Ivan Coyote, author and musician

Three teachers I was lucky enough to have in high school: one was an English teacher, one was a gym teacher, and one was a music teacher. And right now in my adult life I lift weights, play music and write stories. That's how important I feel like those influences can be to a kid.

I think there's a lot of people involved in those [foster care] systems that want to be that person for those kids -- I hope that there are. I also think realistically post-secondary education costs money. Trade school costs money.

And what are most kids, regardless of their background, what are they looking for when they graduate from high school and look around and consider your options? They're looking for some kind of a job, and potentially some kind of post-secondary training or schooling of some kind. Those are two big concerns of kids of that age, regardless of their background. Well, what does your family hook you up with? A job. You get a job from your uncle who knows a guy, who knows a guy, who knows a guy. That definitely happened with me, with some of my summer jobs.

I think it's important to acknowledge that kids aging out of the foster system might not have those infrastructures that other folks might take for granted, and realize what a step up that can be for a kid.

Mo Dhaliwal, director of strategy at Skyrocket Digital and founder of Vancouver International Bhangra Celebration

A friend of mine pointed this out to me once, especially during my dark periods, he would turn to me and say, "You can do anything you want, because our worst case scenario is we'll have to move back home and just eat home-cooked meals."

I guess it's one of those things that you don't realize how good it really is until you miss it. When I first moved to California [at age 21], that's when I really felt it. Because it was like having your umbilical cord cut. For the first six months of me living down there I had no friends, no family. I didn't even realize the safety that I had until I actually moved out and I was on my own for the first time and I realized, "Oh my god, this is a cold and lonely place and I have no one."

For the first couple of months my parents were really good about the fact that I was collect calling them and racking up hundreds -- and in one month close to a thousand dollars -- in phone charges calling friends and family back home. They were really good and understanding about that, because it was insane: I was so lonely, it's not even funny.

Sara Bynoe, comedian and performer

One grandparent was an accountant and he had squirrelled away money for my education. When I first started college in Calgary I lived at home, and I had a great job at the Calgary Public Library, so I had a union job and I could make good money. My grandfather was like, 'Whatever you make in the summer, I'll match it," and then realized how much money I made, and was like, "Oh boy!" I definitely had financial support.

I ended up going to Studio 58 [theatre school] at Langara College, which is such an intense program, your schedule is all over the place. There is no way you can have a job and do that program.

It was my money that I had made in the summer times, there was family money that had been saved up, and then there was support from my parents. Mostly, probably, my father. I don't know, I don't keep track of where the money came from, I just paid the bills!

You're certainly living frugally, but the thing that's so amazing about [Write the Future] is I know that if I'm ever in a horrible bind, that I have family I can go to. Whether it's "Aaaah, I need emergency dental surgery!" or something, that's not going to tip me over into massive debt that's going to have collection agencies harassing me. I don't have that worry, and that's such a luxury.

"Write the Future: A Story Tellers Cabaret" happens at the Imperial Theatre in Vancouver tonight, June 23. Buy tickets here.  [Tyee]

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