Lisa Aguirre began volunteering as a mentor with the DC Family & Youth Initiative (DCFYI). The DCFYI is a social project that helps teens in foster care make lifelong connections with caring adults, matches youth with host parents and mentors, and helps them find adoptive families, in the area of Washington DC.

The program gave her the chance to meet some wonderful young people, between the age of 16 and 21, who spent most of their life in foster care, or aged out of the system. Each one with a unique story to tell.

These stories prompt her to embark on her own project, with the aim of raising awareness of the older children in foster care who are seldom given a voice. She called it Beautiful Kids Of Care.

I got in contact with her to learn more about the important work she is doing. This is what I found out…

First off, what is Beautiful Kids Of Care and when did it all start?

I first thought of this project at one of the DCFYI events, this past April.

Once a year, DCFYI holds a birthday party for all of the teens in the program, and the volunteer mentors join in to celebrate. At the annual party, I was just amazed at how much like a family this group was. We did sack races and other games, ate cake and each teen received some birthday presents (donated by the volunteers). It reminded me of the birthday parties I had for my daughter when she was younger, and I felt a sense of family with everyone there.

It was at this party that I decided I wanted to do something for these kids, something more to raise awareness of how wonderful and real they are, along with their struggles.

I thought of the idea to do brief interviews with older foster kids, or former foster kids, and to compile the interviews into a page for each one, and a picture. That was just the initial concept, but as I started working on it, the project took a shape of his own.

How so?

When I started, I anticipated the kids and I would speak briefly, and that I would have a paragraph or two along with a picture for each. It only took a few interviews for me to realize that the participants had a lot to say, and that I would have much more than a paragraph or two for each person.

All of them so far have talked on their own between one to two hours. I have been absolutely fascinated by their stories, their lives and their triumphs, and have also been deeply, deeply touched by the significant pain each has experienced.

Human Of New York

So I decided to turn all this material into a coffee table book, similar to the Humans of New York books and web posts.

Who is this book for? Who would you like it to reach?

I believe that very few people know much about the older children in foster care. They are wonderful, unique and challenged, and at the same time are kids just like others you know.

After spending time with these kids, I have learned just how tough life has been and will be for them. I have also learned that each is a unique and wonderful person with strengths, weaknesses, good days and bad days, and a resilience beyond anything I have seen.

My hope is that anyone will find this book interesting and will learn something from it, and maybe see foster kids in a new light.

I also hope that, in the group of readers, there will be at least a few who will decide to take one of the many steps that can be taken to help support older kids in foster care, whether it be volunteering, donating, fostering, or adopting.

Can you give us a sneak peek of one of these stories?

Dayar, pictured above, was one of the foster kids I interviewed. He is in his twenties and was in foster care for most of his life.

During the past year, he was adopted by one of the DCFYI volunteers. Here is an excerpt from his interview:

It was hard, prior to even being removed from my family, my younger sister went into foster care a year before I even stepped foot into the system, or knew what the system was. I didn’t fully process not seeing my sister at that young age. I just knew that my sister wasn’t home. I wasn’t with her anymore. I still got to see her a little but she wasn’t with us. And then I was removed, and I recall very early on I used to have visitation rights with my grandma, my family, and particularly my grandmother and my mother. One thing stuck out to me every visit. They used to always tell me this was short term. We’re going to get you soon. And at the time this was something that I really truly wanted to hear. That these strangers I’m living in a house with, this place I’m at is only temporary.

But telling a child at a young age that you’re coming to get him and then not showing up, I think that was the hardest to take. Who was I to believe? My family, or these people I’m temporarily staying with? How I looked at it was, I don’t need to take this. I don’t have to do what you say to do. My grandma is coming to get me soon. Those thoughts soon reflected how I acted in foster care. I was very standoffish with families, and I had really aggressive behavior. I used to really act out and I just thought the more I act out the more likely I might move back with my family.

It is hard for me to describe how truly fascinating their stories are, and how humbling it has been that they have trusted me with their stories. I think the interview write-ups will speak for themselves.

How can our readers help?

I am always looking for more people to interview. I’m happy to discuss whatever they want, like interests, hopes, dreams, small things and big things. If anyone is interested or knows someone who may be interested in participating, please contact me.

Spreading the word about the project is also very important right now. I rely mostly on Twitter, but my virtual network is still quite small. A few simple follows and retweets could be a huge help.

And finally, I’m raising funds via a CrowdRise campaign to produce and publish the actual coffee table book, which is the really expensive part of this project. Those of you who can, and would like to contribute, can do that by visiting my fundraising page Beautiful Kids of Care.

But please know, my only intent with this project is to raise awareness of these kids. While I do not expect any profits (since that’s not the goal), should there be any, they will be donated to DCFYI group to support the amazing job they do.

I would like to thanks Lisa for her dedication to helping these children, first by volunteering as a mentor, and now for setting up a stage where they can talk about themselves and share their experience.

Fostering is rarely a popular subject, and in the unusual occasions when it gets some positive attention, it is often focused around the very young in need of a permanent family.

For some of these children fostering is only a short chapter in their life, while for other it becomes their family. Thankfully, the difficult situations in which they find themselves in, is made a little more bearable thanks to passionate people like Lisa, who are there for them when they need someone.

Here’s how you can get in contact with Lisa:

Twitter: @LisaAg4181
Fundraising page: Beautiful Kids Of Care

Beautiful Kids of Care is a brilliant initiative in need of our support. So please, do get involved, in any way you can.

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