Aging out of foster care, non-profit works to provide softer landing for young women

EAST CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Turning 18 can be liberating but for thousands of teens across the country as it's the day they age out of the foster care system.

According to the National Foster Youth Institute the statistics are grim for 23,000 children who age out of care every year. 20% will become instantly homeless and there is less than a 3% chance for those who have aged out to graduate with a college degree.

Despite the known challenges, Bessie's Angels, a non-profit established in 2015, is working to provide a softer landing.

"The young women that we serve, contrary to what people may think, they are brilliant and they are kind and they are smart," said Tonya Perkins-Stoudermire, the founder of Bessie's Angels. "They are everything that we are, they just don't have any help."

The organization owns an East Cleveland home where six women between the ages of 18-24 can learn to navigate the world as an adult. Since 2015, Perkins-Stoudermire estimates they have housed about 50 women. The goal is to help even more. The group plans to open a second home nearby in August.

"Right now you are in our first home," said LaToya Smith who works with the non-profit. "It took a lot of sweat, tears and hard work to get us into this house."

Smith said donations go towards upkeep of the home and non-profit activities. The women are asked to pay rent but evictions are rare.

"Usually when they come to us they are homeless," said Laura Perkins. "They have been in abusive foster care families. They have been raped, verbally abused most of their lives."

Tasha Jones, 23, said although she never lived in the home, having the option to do so made a huge difference. She said she used the organization's mentoring program and other resources to help in her successful transition to adulthood. However, she remembers how difficult it was before finding out about Bessie's Angels.

"I had no clue what to do," said Jones. "Three days after I walked the stage I was evicted from my housing program. I ended up becoming homeless a couple weeks later. I was homeless my first summer after high school and several months through college."

Now a student at Cuyahoga Community College, she plans to study carpentry with the goal of being able to better serve Bessie's Angels and help rehabilitate vacant homes for potential expansion of the organization, which acquires the homes through the county land bank.

"When I stop and think about all the blessings in my life, I always put Bessie's Angels on the list," said Jones.

Saturday morning the 6th Annual Bessie's Walk will be held at the Upper West Shelter of Edgewater Park. Registration begins at 7 a.m.

CLICK HERE for more information about Bessie's Angels and the walk.

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