Families & Community

The connections that build opportunity.

screen grab from YouTube

There's a list of movies I sit down to watch nearly every December. Most of the movies are terrible. Any other time of year, I'd be ashamed to admit how much I enjoy such corny classics. That's what makes Christmastime special, for those of us who celebrate it. It's like a free pass to just think happy thoughts. It's a collective suspension of disbelief that lasts for the better part of a month. 

When I sit down to watch my favorite Christmas movies, one thing I'm definitely not expecting to get is a cutting commentary on race and class in America. But that's what you get with the 1983 comedy Trading Places

flickr/nasamarshall

Earth is a terrible place to grow up. 

Many of us know this intuitively, but there is also plenty of data on the subject. A report released by UNICEF today shows how bad things were for the world's children, just in the past year. A press release announcing the report declares that as many as 15 million children around the world were caught up in armed conflicts this year:

“This has been a devastating year for millions of children,” said Anthony Lake, UNICEF Executive Director. “Children have been killed while studying in the classroom and while sleeping in their beds; they have been orphaned, kidnapped, tortured, recruited, raped and even sold as slaves. Never in recent memory have so many children been subjected to such unspeakable brutality.”

Life was not nearly so brutal for children in the United States. But, for millions of kids, life still wasn't great. More than 7 million kids in the United States live in extreme poverty. About 1 in 8 American kids lives in a neighborhood with concentrated poverty. About 60 percent of kids in the U.S. are exposed to some type of violence each year. One in nine American girls, and 1 in 23 boys, will report being forced to have sex, before they even graduate high school. 

With such terrible conditions for children, even in developed parts of the world, many parents have to ask themselves: Is Earth even the right place to raise my children? Should I just raise them on Mars? 

San Jose Library / flickr

We are thankful for our State of Opportunity community and hope you all enjoy some time with family or friends over the next few days. We will see you again on Monday.

Michael Coglan / flickr

I can add little of value in the midst of the seismic event of national importance that is Ferguson in the wake of Michael Brown's shooting. These events weigh heavily, even from my geographically and experientially removed position. 

My colleagues Dustin Dwyer, Jennifer Guerra, and to a lesser extent, I, have been reporting on the combustible issues of race, poverty, violence, and opportunity. 

The following is a digest of some of these pieces.

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

The goal for children in foster care is to find them permanent homes. If they can’t live with their birth parents, the next best thing might be adoption. But the road to adoption can be bumpy, and for some children their dreams of a permanent family are dashed before the papers are even signed. 

"I refuse to sink"

Nineteen year old Candice Sponaas is a blonde tomboy with a 1000-watt smile. 

Like a lot of teenagers, Sponaas is really into tattoos. She designed the one on her forearm. It’s a big, floral infinity symbol with an anchor on one end and a rose on the other. In between are the words “I refuse to sink.” As she starts to talk about her broken adoption, I notice her glance down at the tattoo on her arm. It seems to give her strength just looking at it. 

Sponaas moved in with her soon-to-be adoptive family just before she turned 18.  They planned to adopt her in a year or two. But ten months in, things were not going well – especially between Sponaas and the mom of the house. So Sponaas moved out.

"And then we just stopped talking," says Sponaas. "And then she said I think it’s better if we just don’t try to force everything here. I wish you nothing but happiness, but that’s all that there is. So, that adoption is never going to happen."

Patrick M / flickr

The Department of Human Services Office in rural Van Buren County is pretty indistinct. There's a waiting room with a toddler crying. Through double doors and down the hall there is a sea of cubicles. Rows and rows of them where case workers take calls. It’s a big operation, some would say a big bureaucracy that exists, at least in part, to do right by kids like Durwin.

He introduces himself like this, "I'm just a foster youth."

The U.S. Army / Flickr

Many folks who tuned into Jennifer Guerra’s arresting audio documentary on foster care, "Finding Home," wondered how some of the young adults featured, people like Jasmine Uqdah, were able to overcome so much adversity in their young lives. Their success is so statistically unlikely, that numerically and practically it is almost impossible. So what explains it?

Is it grit?

courtesy Erick Moya

This spring, a wave of children showed up at the southern border of the United States, with no adult to care for them. The children were labeled “unaccompanied minors.”

The number of unaccompanied minors at the border was much higher this year than in previous years. But children with nowhere else to turn have long sought refuge in the United States. Many of them end up staying to make a life here.

Today, we have the story of one young man who arrived here years ago, when he was 17 years old.

His story begins like this:

Bueno, mi nombre es Erick Moya

"My name is Erick Moya, I came from Honduras," continues his translator, Wilson Soliz, who works at Bethany Christian Services in Grand Rapids, the organization that helped Moya when he reached the United States. 

"The reason I left Honduras was because my father killed my mother," Soliz continues. "And then we were left alone."

vicki watkins / flickr

We've recently spent a lot of time here at State of Opportunity focusing on foster care. If you missed Jennifer Guerra's documentary Finding Home, set aside some time to listen.

Sue Kley

State of Opportunity aired a documentary yesterday on foster care. All this week, we're publishing a series of articles that explore specific aspects of the foster care system, and some of the challenges kids within that system face.

Imagine being removed from your home, from the only place you've really ever known. You're taken away from your parents, your toys, your bed, maybe even your siblings, and told that you have to live here, in this new place with these new people. Imagine what that must feel like.

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