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Natural Awakenings Naples and Fort Myers

Footsteps to the Future: Creating a Path to Self-Esteem and Independence

Jun 02, 2011 09:18AM ● By Yvette Lynn

In 2001, when Judi Woods learned about the plight of ill-prepared foster kids whose birthday present on their 18th year is homelessness, she founded Footsteps to the Future. The mentoring organization works to create a brighter future of independence for young lives that had the potential for ending in drug and alcohol abuse, unwanted pregnancy, unemployment and other social misfortunes.

Woods says statistics from the Case Family Programs, the nation’s largest operating foundation focused on foster care and improving the child welfare system, are what opened her eyes to what can befall young people aging out of foster care. To her shock, she learned that 70 percent of the nation’s prison population has spent some time in foster care, and 50 percent of foster care youth eventually fall prey to crime, drug and alcohol abuse and homelessness.

Woods, who serves as the executive director of Footsteps, began her mentoring organization on a small scale, matching 10 women volunteer mentors with 10 young women who were beyond the age for state-sponsored foster care. Outstanding success with the more than 126 young girls who have been through the Footsteps program has carried it to the next level.

“Our model for change in Southwest Florida, which is a national pilot program, not only provides mentoring, but also transitional living and advocacy, all of which help to break the tendency to replicate living off the welfare system for generations,” advises Woods. Instruction in valuable life skills helps the girls build self-esteem and understand that their voices count. “Until we encourage and give them a platform, they don’t know what they are capable of doing,” emphasizes Woods. “As mentors and agents of change, the most significant thing we see is that letting these young women know they are loved helps them as survivors. That is a contributing factor when we look at the success of Footsteps as a program and the girls themselves, as they become productive members of our society.”

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