Clothes Donated for Foster Youth Park West GalleryThe Park West Foundation invited guests to Park West Gallery to take part by giving to the “Dress for Success” clothing drive. As foster care youth seek out new opportunities to better themselves, it’s difficult for them to invest in professional attire. The clothing drive asked for donations of new or gently-used business-appropriate attire that young adults could use for job interviews and other professional settings.

Graduating high school, attending college and finding a career can be a tough journey, but imagine having to make that journey without the support network of a family or friends.

This is the struggle nearly 400,000 foster care children in the United States face on a daily basis, around 13,000 of whom live in Michigan, which is why Park West Gallery and the Park West Foundation are encouraging others to take part in National Foster Care Month.

As foster care youth seek out new opportunities to better themselves, it’s difficult for them to invest in professional attire. The clothing drive is asking for donations of new or gently-used business-appropriate attire that young adults can use for job interviews and other professional settings. Collection boxes have been set up in Park West Gallery’s lobby for the duration of the drive.

Founded in 2006, the Park West Foundation addresses the needs of children in foster care, specifically young adults who are aging out of the system in Southeastern Michigan.  Saba Gebrai, program director of the Park West Foundation, says for the past 10 years the foundation has done more than merely provide shelter or educational assistance, but strives to be there for the young adults during holidays and for milestones.

“We’re constantly coming up with ways to share resources and information and how do we do it in a way that transcends the trauma that they’ve experienced, and a lot of times the trust comes through the relationship of the youth,” she says. “We give to the young people, and the young people give back to us.”

Park West held a special event at its gallery on May 3 where youth who benefited from the foundation’s involvement spoke about their journeys and successes, serving as a reminder of the need to support foster care.

Veunita “Vee” Garrison was placed in foster care three months after her birth, and despite spending much of her childhood with her biological father, she endured the hardships of being a ward of the state. Garrison, however, took that experience and harnessed it with the help of the Park West Foundation’s support over the past three years. She released the first issue of her Qween magazine on May 1, a publication that aims to inspire young women.

“The foundation has helped me in having family support in a way,” she says. “It also, business-wise, has helped me structure my business and develop the concept of what Qween is.”

Brandon Foster, an artist attending the College for Creative Studies, spoke about his recent accomplishment of painting a mural in the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services offices in Highland Park. He says he would mainly like foster care to change how foster care youth are viewed and how they view themselves.

“The children, they grow up knowing struggle, and when you grow up knowing struggle you have a disadvantage,” he says. “They can be more than just their environment, they can be more than just what’s around them or what people are telling them to be.”

Dominique Morgan told Park West she is graduating from Oakland Community College this year with an associate’s degree in photography, and is planning to attend Oakland University.

“They’ve been here to provide support for family events or graduation or prom,” she says. “They gave me a helping hand for things that I needed with moral support and mentally preparing me for college.”

Empowering the youth through education is an important factor for the Park West Foundation. Studies show that 70 percent of teens leaving foster care want to attend college, but fewer than 10 percent of them will enroll after high school. Of them, less than 3 percent graduate college.

Not only does the foundation provide assistance, but also opportunities for the young adults to give back and help their peers. Nou Vang serves as one of 33 liaisons for youth education that the foundation works with in order to connect Michigan foster care youth to resources, specifically in obtaining scholarships like Fostering Futures.

“We try to distribute as much information about scholarships as possible because the statistics are really low for foster kids from high school graduating and getting a college degree,” she says. “It’s really nice to see other kids reach their dreams while I’m reaching mine.”

Gebrai emphasized that, without the support of donations, caring parents and organizations like the foundation, these types of success stories wouldn’t be possible.

“When you don’t have any support system of parents or grandparents, where do you go?” she says. “It’s not having the person that you can even call to say ‘I got a 4.0’ or ‘I have something great happening in my life.’ So it’s not just the sadness, it’s not having the connection to other people, and more than anything else, I think Park West Foundation offers that connection.”