By Gwen Rollings
Cindy Tilley, president/founder of Forgotten Angels of Florida (FAF), knows firsthand the special birthday present that foster youths receive on their 18th birthdays. Statistics reveal that 30,000 youths age out of the foster care system annually and are ushered through a one-way door that often leads to homelessness, lacking necessary life skills and opportunities to succeed.
Tilley, once in foster care herself, felt led to found FAF in 2015 as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. She said, “Forgotten Angels is different in that we care for every single aspect of our residents’ successful future. We provide employment opportunities, education and enrichment. Most importantly, we love, respect and care for them as if they are our own children, not a case number or a dollar amount.”
For those aging out of foster care, tiny homes in Brandon are provided to encourage independence, a sense of self-worth, responsibility, self-esteem and some privacy. An assessment is performed on arrival to determine medical concerns, education level, legal issues and former agencies to provide appropriate assistance.
Tilley said residents are at various levels of independence. While some can cook and clean, one youth said he didn’t know how to tell time until he was 17. He had so few life skills that when released from foster care on his birthday, he survived by panhandling and sleeping in the park. FAF provides a light at the end of the foster care tunnel.
Youths are referred by friends, associated organizations and homes refusing to keep them after they age out of the system. Although mainly from Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties, other youths residing at FAF come from as far away as California. There are few programs like Forgotten Angels and Tilley would like to become more established throughout the country.
Committed friends and supporters can donate food, clothes, furniture and other items. Although COVID-19 has eliminated many fundraising plans, donations can be hosted on Facebook. Weems Motor Co. (weemsmotorco.com/raffle) is offering a raffle to win a motorcycle, and in 2021 an actual brick-and-mortar home valued at $350,000 will be raffled off.
Currently only housing boys, locating a property and/or home for girls is on the horizon. Tilley explained, “These kids need someone there for them who understands their struggles. They deserve so much more than they have been given in ways of love and support.”
For more information or ways to donate or volunteer, visit http://forgottenangelsflorida.org.