From Foster Homes to the 53-Man Roster

By Teresa Varley

steelers.com

https://www.steelers.com/news/from-foster-homes-to-the-53-man-roster

Tuzar Skipper came into the small area where team photographer Karl Roser was taking head shots of players during the Steelers rookie minicamp in May.

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He extended his hand, and in his deep voice, introduced himself.

“Skipper, correct,” Roser repeated.

The rookie there on a tryout basis smiled and nodded his head.

“Yep, like the Skipper of the ship,” said Skipper with a smile, which made all of those in the room smile, myself included.

It was that day, that moment when Skipper spoke with confidence in his voice and a strong presence that you had a feeling this guy could be something special, despite the fact that the odds were fully stacked against him.

First, this is a guy who saw player after player selected in the NFL Draft while he never heard his name called. Then he saw the names of players who were signed as undrafted free agents. While all he could do was sit, wait and hope. It wasn’t easy not being drafted, and not having a team even sign you after the draft was even worse.

“I was very disappointed,” said Skipper. “What kid is not disappointed? I would be standing here telling you a fib if I said I wasn’t disappointed. I was really disappointed. I didn’t let that moment become my future. I said you have been down before, you have to continue to work. It’s all work. It’s your mindset. Are you willing to work? If Plan A isn’t going to work out are you still going to achieve your goals going to Plan B and C?”

With Plan B facing him, he knew he couldn’t fail.

He had a few days to compete for his football life, trying to catch the attention of Steelers coaches and scouts during the three-day minicamp, while they were also watching players who were either drafted or signed as rookie free agents after the draft.

And he was doing it without a lot of rest. Skipper had a tryout just days earlier with the Kansas City Chiefs, with barely a minute to recover.

“It was a big turnaround, instant,” said Skipper. “Kansas City Chiefs rookie minicamp was over Tuesday. I got a call coming out of practice and my agent said call me ASAP, I want to talk to you. Then I had a message from (Steelers scout) Dan Colbert. I left Kansas City on Tuesday and was here on Thursday. I didn’t have any time to rest. Coming to the Steelers was my third camp in a week. It was getting tiring, but I really wanted it. I didn’t care. I was like I am going to do what I can do.”

This is a guy who is driven. Driven to make it. Driven to not let this opportunity slip away. He knew failure wasn’t an option, despite life setting him up to do just that.

And he didn’t fail, instead quite the opposite. Skipper was signed right after rookie minicamp to the team’s 90-man roster. And that’s where the real work began. The outside linebacker had an uphill battle in his fight to make the 53-man roster. But he didn’t back down. He had a strong training camp, even stronger preseason, and quickly became that player everyone was predicting could beat the odds and make the team.

He, though, was cautious and nervous, especially in the days leading up to the roster cuts.

“It was crazy. Just praying that you make the team,” said Skipper. “Praying that you don’t get a phone call in that 48-hour period. How ironic is that? The time you don’t want to hear anything that is good news. When you do hear something it’s bad news.”

Skipper got a few calls, but they were from friends, not the dreaded call so many others got. And the silence meant he made the 53-man roster.

“I got a lot of calls,” said Skipper. “Especially because I turned my ringer on. And I have a duck ringer, so the duck went off and I was like oh man. And it was a friend calling. I told him you can’t call me.

“By not having a phone call I knew I made it. At 4 p.m. Saturday I saw my name on the roster, so I knew I made it.

“It’s a dream come true. Something you dream about since you are a young kid. In middle school I was saying I am going to play in the NFL. In high school I said I am going to play in the NFL. Not really knowing that it was going to happen. Now it’s happened so it’s a dream come true.”

If there is anyone deserving of that dream coming true, it’s Skipper.

His childhood was one filled with uncertainty and upheaval, a child constantly on the move, never having the ability to fully feel like he had a home until his senior year of high school.

“It was rough,” admitted Skipper. “Foster home to foster home. Group home to group home. It was rough.

“One of my memories that I remember to this day is coming back from two-a-days in high school, and we all know how hard two-a-days are, and it’s nine p.m. and I am going back to a group home to look for some dinner. And all we had was hot dogs and beans. I am grateful for something to eat. But after a long day of work I don’t think hot dogs and beans are giving me the recovery I need to get back out there and do the same thing over again tomorrow. It was hard.”

It was a life many would have just given up on, figuring the fight wasn’t worth it. He went to three different elementary schools, three middle schools, and three high schools. His parents, who are now deceased, were unable to retain custody of him. He remembers living with his grandmother. But foster homes and groups homes were more the norm.

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“I just remember being three years old and being taken for the first time,” said Skipper. “Then I went back and lived with my grandmother until I was seven. They I got taken again. I was with one family from seven until 15. Then it was time to split ways. I went to South Carolina with my twin brother when I was 16. Then I went back up to Connecticut and Meriden at the end of July, early August and started paying football in 10th grade (at Maloney High School). I liked it and ended up moving to Norwich Free Academy later that year. I got the season done and then moved to Norwich the second semester.”

It was while he was at Norwich Free Academy that he met two people who helped change his life, Tim and Kathy Duggan. The Duggans learned of his situation after watching him play high school football, learned he lived in a group home, and they wanted to help. It wasn’t easy, but they worked with the Dept. of Children and Families and with Skipper feeling comfortable with them, they became more than a place to live, they became a family for him his senior year of high school and beyond.

“The last six months of high school I was living with them,” said Skipper. “They helped me graduate high school. They have been with me on this journey ever since.”

They were with him during his college years as well, from Monroe Junior College to the University of Toledo, where they were regulars at his games. They were among the first people Skipper called when he found out he made the team.

“They deserved it,” said Skipper. “They were with me through the ups and downs. I remember going to the Dept. of Children and Families and they were telling me I couldn’t go to college. Now look, I graduated high school, college and am in the NFL.”

“It wasn’t easy, but we all say God gives his toughest battles to his toughest soldiers. I just think of myself as one of God’s toughest soldiers,” said Skipper. “It could have been easy. I could have given up. That is not the case. I kept going. I know what I wanted. I know how I want my future to go. I think we are on the right track.”

You would expect nothing less from the Skipper of his own ship.

Helping Your Birth and Other Children Get Along

By Mellicent Blythe , Fostering Perspectives

https://fosteringperspectives.org/fp_v11n2/blythe.htm

One aspect of fostering that does not get much study is how best to integrate the children in foster care into a family’s rhythm of life and just how crucial this is for the well-being of everyone in the home. This article reveals findings from a study along with some implications that can be used in practical ways.

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Director's Update- 3rd Quarter 2019

By Kimberly Scott

AGAPE of NC opened its second young adult foster home (YAFH) in August 2019. This foster home caters to young men, ages 18-21 years old, and is located in Wilmington, NC. Goals at our young men’s foster home are the same as for our young ladies’ YAFH in Raleigh – to assist older youth aging out of the foster care system to complete their educations, find jobs, and learn life-skills that will help them transition to independent living.

This newest foster home is next door to the Pine Valley Church of Christ. Don Horton is the foster parent. We are excited to have the Pine Valley congregation as a wonderful resource and support to Don and the young men in his home!

Don experienced a turbulent childhood, himself -- moving from place to place frequently, watching family members engage in substance abuse, with little privacy and theft of personal belongings. At 13, Don’s case worker got him a job working at a children’s summer camp because of his maturity. When Don was 16 years-old, he found and accepted Christ!

After graduating high school, Don served in the Army ReserveNational Guard and, upon returning home, worked at the Armory and doing odd jobs. However, being the oldest of 27 grandchildren and always surrounded by youngsters, Don knew he wanted a career working with kids.

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He took some college courses and was eventually hired to work at a 24-hour mental health treatment center for children. Don was employed there for 15 years as a direct care provider for senior youth and as a teacher’s aide. Don taught life skills, like budgeting -- and he modeled others, like appropriate behavior, social aptitude, problem- solving, and communication. Don continued his work at the center while battling cancer and, only retired from it, after suffering an injury that restricted his ability to lift patients with mobility challenges.

The strengths Don brings to AGAPE’s newest YAFH include his personal background and life experience, coupled with the knowledge he acquired working with a young adult population (aged 15+) in a residential setting.

One young man has already been accepted into theWilmington YAFH! Now, AGAPE has only 3 more vacancies left to fill Don’s foster home for young men!

Day in the Park Festival

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We are so excited to be participating in the 48th Annual Day in the Park Festival! Make your plans now to join the fun this Saturday and stop by our booth to say hello!

Day in the Park returns to the Piedmont for its 48th festival with fun-filled, family-oriented entertainment, crafts, food and much more on Saturday, September 21. Nestled in the beautiful High Point City Lake Park, the festival is presented by the High Point Arts Council in cooperation with the High Point Parks & Recreation Department. Day in the Park is a long standing tradition that has been celebrating the arts longer than any other festival in Guilford County, NC.

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The festival will be held from 11:00 a.m. through 5:00 p.m. and the park is located at 602 W. Main Street in Jamestown. Admission is free!

http://highpointarts.org/arts/community-outreach-programs/day-in-the-park/

The Christian Case Against the Orphanage

Children need a stable family, not institutional care.

Christianity Today

By Krish Kandiah

“No matter how well run an orphanage is, we really do not want our children to grow up there; it can never be as a child growing up in a family with mother and father.” There is so much need around the world, good orphanages and bad, but still no substitute for the family. Please take a few minutes to read this story from Christianity Today at https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2019/august-web-only/christian-case-against-orphanage-kandiah-gls.html

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How To Make Initial Placements Easier

By Rochelle Johnson

FosteringPerspectives.org

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“The initial placement of a child in our home is often an exciting time. For many of us, it is the first introduction to a young person that will be living with us for days, months, or sometimes years. In a perfect world, the logistics of welcoming that child into our family would be clearly presented and carefully organized so we could focus on the important goal of making the child’s transition as easy and smooth as possible.

However, we don’t live in a perfect world. Initial placements can be rocky, hurried, and filled with informational gaps about a child’s history, basic necessities, and emotional needs. Here are a few tips and tools to help alleviate stress on foster parents, with the ultimate goal of helping you focus on what we as foster parents have all set out to do: provide kids with a nurturing and safe environment to help them grow and heal.”

Read the rest of this article for 5 steps that can help make initial placements much easier. http://fosteringperspectives.org/?p=1649

Be A Pam

By Melissa Holland

Last week I had the privilege of visiting with a woman who is known in her County for her generosity and compassion.  She believes that we are put on earth to be of service to others, and she lives out this belief every day.  Pam, who is in her 70s and has grown children, saw a need five years ago and decided to take action.

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Julie, who was 11 months old at the time, had been removed from her home due to her parents' drug and alcohol abuse which caused them to neglect her care.  Before her retirement, Pam had worked in the child support office of the county, and knew well the ins and outs of foster care.  The people involved in placing Julie felt that it would be difficult to find a family willing to take her due to her parents' and grandparents' connections to drug dealers in the area.  As it turns out, they were right to worry.  Several families expressed interest in Julie only to refuse to take her once they found out about her background.  

Enter Pam.  Pam told me that she had missed having children around at Christmas because it seemed so much less exciting without them.  Of course, that wasn't her main reason for wanting Julie.  Pam said that she feared that Julie would not have any chance at a successful life if she didn't have the stability and opportunities that Pam could provide for her.  While she could only guess what Julie might have suffered, she soon discovered that Julie suffers from PTSD.  She does not want to be alone.  Recently, Pam set up a playroom for Julie, but she refuses to play in it.  She always plays in the room where everyone else is, and creates a "barricade" to protect herself in case she needs it. 

Julie will attend a co-op school this year where she can be just another little girl.  Not the daughter of parents who are notorious in the county.  Not a girl who will be bullied or looked down on for things she cannot control.  A girl with a loving family who is curious about nature, who loves animals, who lives life to the fullest. 

Pat loved Julie even before they became a family.  Over time, that love has grown even though it has been tested many times.  When I left Pam's house, I wondered how many Julies are waiting for their Pam to show up.  Some Julies are still children, but some are all grown up.  All of them deserve a chance to know what it is to be loved unconditionally.  To know that God loves them and that Jesus offered Himself as a sacrifice for them. 

As Jesus followers, we should keep watch for the Julies.  Maybe God put them in our path for us to be a Pam.  

*Names have been changed




All Things New Inc.

By Patricia Holland, Executive Director for ATNI

All Things New Inc. aims to assist foster youth in North Carolina through their transition out of foster care. ATNI serves foster youth by offering services, training programs, and supportive resources in a variety of areas including financial education, housing, life skills training and kinship care.

As ATNI’s Executive Director, I enjoyed the opportunity to visit the site of AGAPE of NC’s Young Adult Foster Home in Raleigh, conducted a group session, and spoke with each individual participant, as well. I give all the credit to God for ATNI being able to partner with AGAPE in service to foster youth.

“My meeting with AGAPE’s Executive Director, Kimberly Scott and Foster Mom, Faye Evans, was the plan of God and his Divine timing.”~Patricia Holland

On March 30, 2019, ATNI held their Fostering Goals-One Step at a Time event as part of the Life Skills program, and a Vision Board workshop was arranged for June 1, 2019.

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Other activities and programs for foster youth that ATNI is in the process of planning for 2019 include: a foster youth field trip, a Financial Planning workshop, The Need To Know About Insurance workshop, Career Counseling one-on- one, the Kinship Care Holiday event, and ATNI’s dinner and movie fundraiser.

Please visit www.allthingsnewinc.org, or check out All Things New Inc. on Facebook, for updates and sign-up opportunities on all of ATNI’s upcoming events.

Staff Spotlight: Mary Arnold, Director of Social Services

Leah Tripp

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On January 1st of 2019, Mary Arnold officially stepped into her new position as AGAPE of North Carolina’s Director of Social Services.

The position is new to AGAPE. Previously, the work done by a Director of Social Services was being carried out by Executive Director Kimberly Scott in addition to her responsibilities as director.

To delegate these responsibilities, Arnold, previously a social worker with AGAPE, began training in August to accept her upcoming role as Director of Social Services.

Arnold’s responsibilities include managing and directing AGAPE’s contracted social workers, facilitating intake of children from various counties, communicating with foster families regarding potential placements, keeping foster family files up to date, managing licenses, and being available to social workers if they need any assistance.

While Arnold admits this position has been a learning experience, her passion for the job and the people she works with is evident.

“I love it. I love being very personal and getting to know the all the social workers and so many families... I get to know them and talk with them”

In addition to working closely with social workers and families, Arnold also has a hand in deciding where a foster child should be placed, an aspect of her work that is new to this job.

Arnold explains that placing children is often a complex process; factors like age, location, family dynamics, and trauma history are all at play when she is making the decision of which family would best match a particular child.

“It’s like putting puzzle pieces together,” she remarks.

The job can be difficult, and Arnold does not shy away from this aspect of her position, explaining that getting placement calls and not being able to place children is one of the hardest parts of her job. She sees trauma and pain come through her email inbox regularly.

Despite this, Arnold says those heartbreaking emails and phone calls “remind me why I do what I do. It’s what makes me passionate about recruiting foster parents.”

This passion for children bleeds into Arnold’s personal life as well; she explains that her job has caused her and her husband to consider becoming foster parents, explaining that she cannot do the work she does and not take a moment to look at herself, to reflect on how she could be a potential solution to a problem.

When asked what she would tell potential foster parents who are afraid to take the first step into foster care, Arnold says:

“Trust in God. I know that’s so much easier to say than do... but there’s so much more reward when you take a leap of faith and go through the valleys... When you walk with these kids, when you are Jesus to them, when you come to the other side with them, you’re going to get the greatest reward.”