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It's Graduation Season!

It's Graduation Season!

This year there are 3.5 million students expected to graduate high school, a milestone each one of them has spent their entire lives working toward. But did you know that kids who have been in foster care are 50% less likely to graduate by the time they turn 19?

The Promise of Spring

We love watching the seasons change and spring in South Carolina might be one of our favorite things. Even after the hardest of winters, the trees and flowers begin to bloom and give new life once again. For the kids and teens we help every day, it’s a visual reminder that life might not always be easy, but when you’re determined it eventually brings change. For the 10 teens in our care who are preparing for high school graduation, this spring brings a lot of change. We’ve been helping them with college applications, taking them to tour campuses, and walking them through the financial aid and scholarship processes. Last month we held a higher education workshop for our underclassmen to help them begin the college planning process. We’ve already been able to celebrate a few acceptance letters too!

Trevor has lived at Palmetto Place since November 2015. Before coming to Palmetto Place he didn’t have stable housing and was bounced from one school to another. This put him a full year behind his other classmates. It was discouraging for him not to graduate on time, but with the support from our staff he set new goals.

In the last year he has worked hard to find and maintain a job, pass his driver’s test, and even get his own car. Once he knew he was stable in his new school, he was able to get more involved with the school band and with the help from the community we were able to provide him with his own trumpet. This spring he was recognized as a Legend in the Making by his high school and has accepted a band scholarship to SC State.

Our other graduates are looking into programs at Midlands Tech and Greeneville Tech and a couple have received confirmation that they’ll be joining our country’s Armed Forces. We are so proud of all the hard work and dedication from all of our residents. This spring is certainly a reminder that in time, all things change.

Troy Car
Troy Car
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Esperanza Gala: DACA Scholarship Initative

The University of South Carolina Colony of Kappa Delta Chi Sorority, Incorporated is excited about our 1st Annual fundraising event, Esperanza Gala and Art Auction. In order for this event to be successful, we are donating 100% of the proceeds raised from ticket sales and donations towards the cause from supporters in our community. The positive response will allow us to create a DACA Scholarship Fund aiding low-income applicants. DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, is an American immigration policy that provides temporary relief from deportation and a renewable 2-year work permit for qualified young adults who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children. If approved, DACA-mented youth can receive a Social Security Number, a Driver’s License, eligibility for higher education, apply for jobs,

We firmly believe that communities become great and businesses thrive where opportunity is deemed important, because the lives of its citizens are enriched. The USC Colony of Kappa Delta Chi Sorority, Incorporated seeks to provide such enrichment to the community by promoting educational, cultural, civic, and economic opportunities for Undocumented youth through this initiative. We believe, through this financial scholarship we can cultivate the skills and talents of high school students to become leaders for the betterment of their communities.

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Follow these links to buy tickets and donate to our gofundme page.

https://www.gofundme.com/KDChiEsperanzaGala

http://kdchiesperanzagala.ticketleap.com/esperanza-gala-daca-scholarship-initative/

 

A New Year's Resolution

One of our favorite activities each January is the kids’ New Year’s Resolutions! We thought you’d enjoy seeing what’s on their minds for 2016. Our youngest, a 4-year-old, wants to eat more Chinese food and to go to school. This week we were able to enroll her in 4K. A 7-year-old boy wants a pet bird and to go to Disney. An 8-year-old wants to be a movie star, visit Paris and be a cheerleader for the Dallas "Cow Boys!" She'd also like to learn to enjoy math and get better grades in school, both of which are goals we are working towards. A 9-year-old boy wants to be adventurous and eat red pepper on his pizza, learn how to do a back flip and spin on his head, travel and learn the Electric Slide (our Case Manager has promised to teach him!)

All of the residents at Palmetto Place have goals for 2016. Stay tuned to hear what our teens are thinking about this year!

What Does Home Feel Like?

“The known smells, sounds, sights, and feel of home let our brains relax and rejuvenate. It's a key part of why 'There's no place like home.'” When I saw this tweet from Amelia Franck Meyer (@alfranckmeyer), can you guess the first thing that came to mind?

If you know me, you know my mind went to the smell of food. My very first thought was of the smell of bacon as I walk into Palmetto Place in the morning. Ms. Matilda and Ms. LaConte cook some great breakfasts and the bacon smell is a great way to start the morning.

Amelia knows what she’s talking about – she knows kids and she knows kids who’ve experienced trauma. She’s the CEO of Anu Family Services in Wisconsin and Minnesota and a guru at well-being for kids and taking care of kids who are in out-of-home care, just like our kids. When she speaks, I listen, because what she says is important and crucial for the right care of kids who’ve experienced trauma.

So, let’s talk about the five senses of home.

 

Smell

Bacon in the mornings! And laundry - the almost nonstop smell of laundry. I love that clean smell!

 

Sound

I can mark the time in the afternoons by the sound of the kids on the basketball court. It means they’re home from school. It means I get to take a work break and go play for a few minutes and see how the day was at school. It’s 15 minutes that I can connect with kids as they unwind. I will always remember one particular middle schooler who started playing at exactly 3:45 every day all by himself. It was his way to relax and think through the day. I learned a lot from him.

 

Sight

Endless smiles. That’s what comes to mind. We have smiles in the mornings before school! Okay, truth – that’s mostly elementary school kids. Middle schoolers, well, they’re a little grumpy. High schoolers, they’re so independent that they’re just out the door. If you have kids, you know!

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There’s a lot to see at Palmetto Place. There are older kids helping younger kids, houseparents and volunteers helping kids with homework or playing games or reading. To walk through the house on any given afternoon is a treat. It is a house buzzing with activity. It is kids being kids.

 

Taste

Ask the kids and they will tell you their favorite foods! Ms. Gloria’s spaghetti, Ms. Jenny’s baked chicken, Ms. Betty’s shrimp fried rice, Ms. Jill’s Christmas Eve dinner and on and on and on. Ask kids and adults who once lived at Palmetto Place and they’ll have their own memories of food they loved.

 

Touch

A wise friend taught me something very smart years ago. Hugs, high fives and handshakes. As her kids enter her classroom each morning, they get to choose one. I borrowed this from her – that’s the highest form of flattery, right?

Hugs, high fives and handshakes are what all kids need, but especially kids who’ve experienced trauma, abuse, neglect. I’m a big fan of a hug. I hug every kid who wants a hug. New kids who’ve just arrived at Palmetto Place are understandably standoffish at first. Who is this woman and these other adults and all these kids who want to be my friend? Who can I trust? And after a day or so, after they’ve seen other kids give hugs, then they want in on the hugs and the high fives! That first hug is always a little hesitant. But then it becomes a giant group hug.

Touch. It’s how kids learn to connect with others. It’s a part of learning to trust. It’s a part of accepting love.

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Since it’s the first week of school, there are other parts of the sense of touch on my mind too. The feel of those brand new shoes. Carrying a brand new backpack to school. Writing with a newly sharpened pencil on that smooth new composition notebook. Everyone's new haircuts! Thank you InnerSole, FiA Midlands, AFLAC, TD Bank and many others for providing shoes, school supplies and much more!)

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Do you see a pattern? All of these memories through senses – they are the feel of home. And there’s no place like home. When home isn’t a safe place, there is Palmetto Place.

~ Erin Hall, Executive Director

Kevin's day off

Kevin's day off

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Monday marked the first day of school for our children… well, everyone except Kevin. Kevin was thrilled to have the whole big house and all of the houseparents’ attention to himself today. He said that he woke up later than everyone else – and it “ROCKED!”

Later, he took his two new favorite toys, Batman and Spiderman, and the three of them played a rousing game of pick-up basketball (it was a close game, but Kevin made a last-second three point shot to win against the plastic figurines).

After basketball, Kevin went on an adventure with the houseparents; getting him registered for school. As he walked up to the elementary school he was nervous; starting a new school year is never easy. After getting the paperwork filled out Kevin wanted to meet his new teacher. Although he can’t remember her name, he said, “She seems really nice. I’m excited about fourth grade even if I’m going to have to learn multiplication!” He was starting to feel better about starting school when he heard a familiar voice. Darting down the hall and around a corner he saw his favorite substitute teacher!

On their way home from running errands he asked if he could get his favorite lunch, McDonalds and chocolate milk! He ate lunch with some staff members, something he doesn’t normally get to do when all the kids are home. He expressed a little apprehension about having to take timed multiplication tests, but quickly talked himself out of it when he realized how smart he would be once he mastered multiplication.

Though he was excited to get back to school to see his friends, what was even more exciting was that this afternoon, he got to pick whatever channel he wanted on TV. Unrestricted by “all those girls” to choose a suitable movie, Kevin was able to kick back and watch Cars, and took up as much room on the couch as he wanted. As Cars came to its denouement, Kevin realized he had done everything he had wanted to do in his day off. Luckily, just then, the van with the other kids pulled into the driveway and they came barreling into the house, wide-ruled notebooks and #2 pencils flying.

Kevin loved the peace and quiet of the morning, but by the end of the day he was thankful for the usual hustle, bustle and chatter. He was thrilled to have the other kids back around – those he has come to consider his family – so he could hear their stories of new classrooms, new teachers and old friends on the playground. By the end of the school day, Kevin couldn’t wait to begin his own school journey tomorrow (even if he does have to learn multiplication). We wish for you and yours the same that we wish for all our children – a happy and healthy start to the school year! We can’t wait to see what this year brings!

Sharing Samantha's Story

One of our volunteers put together a video about one of our former residents, Samantha, and her journey from homelessness to success. We are so proud of Samantha and all of her hard work!

Samantha came to us during her senior year in high school. She had been living with her family in a church’s Sunday School classroom. After Samantha’s graduation, the church notified her family that the classroom was no longer available for them to sleep in. They had to move out immediately. That’s when Samantha found Palmetto Place.

When she started college in fall 2013, Samantha’s Palmetto Place family took her shopping for dorm supplies. They took her to lunch on her first day and then said teary goodbyes. They were like any normal family – just a bit more unconventional.

Today, Samantha still comes “home” on the weekends. She plays with the younger children and tutors the older ones. We taught her how to drive and helped her buy her first car.

We asked Samantha to tell us what happened to some of her homeless friends. She replied, “All of the homeless teens I’ve met were from Palmetto Place and they’re all doing well for themselves.”

Samantha knows many, however, who weren’t so lucky. “Some kids from my old neighborhoods haven’t gotten the support I did at Palmetto Place. They are in prison, on their third child, or doing illegal things to get money.”

“Palmetto Place gives a chance to kids like me to make something of ourselves.” Samantha will always remember her time here fondly, as it led her to realize that “there are people out there who care about us and want us to succeed. Thank you!”

Fight, Flight or Freeze

One’s true coping skills becomes apparent when loss occurs. Fight, Flight, or Freeze. In the world of caring for kids who have experienced trauma and loss, I preach “express your feelings” and resiliency on a daily basis. (Who actually practices what they preach most of the time?) Anyhow, some kids fight the loss and trauma and vow to make life better for themselves. Some run from it, shut down, push it to the side, and stay busy to avoid dealing with it. Then some freeze. They can’t move forward. They don’t digress. They are just there – going through the motions of daily life but not dealing with it in any fashion. We all grieve differently for things or people that we lose. Working in a shelter, we experience a variety of events, but we experience loss regularly. We have kids come into our house and steal our hearts to only have to give them up when the judge orders reunification with a parent. We may or may not be given time to mentally and emotionally prepare for them to leave and return home. Most of the time we fear for them to return home. It’s fear of the unknown – are they getting fed? Are they getting homework help? Is someone there to tuck them in at night? Are they safe? It’s a continuous emotional struggle for us and the roller coaster is never ending. It is difficult to give ourselves time to grieve because as soon as one kid leaves another comes in and demands our love.

Today this entire process came to light once again.

The five year old and his eight-year-old sister were unexpectedly ordered by the judge to return home. While they are excited to go home, it was devastating to our staff. Imagine having a sibling set in your home every day for a little over a year. Day in and day out you see progress – more green circles for good behavior at school, academic progress, etc. Then imagine getting a call and someone on the other end tells you that they are going back home to their parent and to have them packed up in 2 hours. You’ll never see them again, unless fate allows you to randomly run into them in public. You can’t call or visit the kids who have become family.

One houseparent went to run errands avoiding the painful goodbye. Another forced a smile and helped them pack up their belongings. One staff member hid in their office keeping busy with other work. And another silently sobbed at their desk. No matter what our own feelings are, on the surface we smile to the kids because they are excited to return home. Whatever our coping skills may be, we have to flip the switch to our emotions quickly when another resident needs us. Because it’s what we do. Loving and caring for kids while knowing you have to let them go eventually is not a job for the faint hearted. And I wouldn’t trade #shelterlife for the world.

On a last note, as I picked the brother and sister up from school and told them they were going home I was able to hear how much they would miss Palmetto Place and the staff. The five year old then says “Ms. Jill, can we please take a selfie with you before we go home?”

Jill Lawson, Director of Client Services

Palmetto Place Teen Determined to Succeed

Thank you to WIS and Meaghan Norman for this amazing story on Kendal, one of our teenagers at Palmetto Place. We are so proud of Kendal and his accomplishments and we're excited to see where he lands after high school graduation. Link to WIS Story

Link to WIS Awareness Story on Homeless Teens in the Midlands

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) -

For one teenager, homelessness is his reality but not his label.

Hard work. Struggle. Power.

Kendal Benjamin, 17, spends many afternoons in the weight room at C.A. Johnson High School.

The graduating senior plays football, track and wants to study athletic training in college. He comes to school every day, and many around him don't know what it's like when he goes home at night.

"If you ask me, I'll tell you," Benjamin said. "It's not like I'm going to go to school angry, sad, because I don't have anything to eat or my lights are off. Just go to school like nothing happened, just like a normal person… I just don't like feeling sorry for myself."

Benjamin lives at Palmetto Place Children's Shelter.

"It's not home but it's something to help me get on my feet so I can learn life skills," Benjamin said.

He has 19 roommates.

"We take kids from newborn to age 18 and they come from homes where there's been abuse or neglect and then we also have teenagers who have no other place to live," said Erin Hall, the executive director of Palmetto Place. "We work very closely with the school social workers at the high schools and they know their kids really, really well. They know which kids will thrive at Palmetto Place and which kids really need to be here and in order to succeed, graduate from high school and move on to bigger and better things."

Jill Lawson is a social worker.

"There are very few that accept males over the age of 12," Lawson said. "So, if the parent or guardian and younger siblings go to the shelter, where does that leave the male high school student with nowhere to go?"

Not every child at Palmetto Place comes from an abusive home. Benjamin's mother lost her job and with it, the ability to provide for her children.

"I think no matter what the circumstance is at Palmetto Place, it is incredibly difficult for a child to leave home," Hall said.

Benjamin said he finally had a heart-to-heart with his mother.

"We've got to stop hiding and just do something about it," Benjamin said. "We can't just stay here and we're making like everything's alright because it's not alright, so I need to go take care of me so you can take care of you. Hopefully when I take care of me, I can help you out later in life."

Benjamin said he spent years moving from place to place.

"One day we might not have enough food or the next day, or the next month the lights will be cut off, like 'Mom, what's going on?' And she be like, 'I don't know..'," he said." She really doesn't want to tell you to hurt you. She thinks it's going to hurt you or you're too young to know about it."

He was forced to grow up quickly but never complains.

"Kendal accepts responsibility," said Benjamin's high school football and track coach Jerry Jackson. "He does not blame anybody. And he doesn't consider himself a victim. Plus, his intestinal fortitude, to stand and endure adversities when most people his age would just break down and say, ‘woe is me.'"

Jackson said he sees the discipline on the field.

"He's a young man I would have for my son," Jackson said. "Kendal is very respectful. He's thoughtful, he's considerate. All those traits turned out for him to be one of the leaders on the team this year, the other kids can look up to him and be an example and role model."

In the classroom, teachers describe Benjamin the same way.

Juanita Wilson is Kendal's English teacher and senior adviser.

"He exudes: 'I will overcome.' It will not, homelessness will not define me," Wilson said. "It will not determine my destiny. That is what I see in everything he does."

Benjamin doesn't want your pity. He keeps pushing himself every single day.

"Sometimes you have to make a way when there's no way," Benjamin said. "Life is not easy but you have to get through it some type of way - well, in a positive way."

Benjamin's story isn't unique. A Midlands school district last year identified a little more than 80 unaccompanied students.

For more information about the Palmetto Place shelter, visit palmettoplaceshelter.org.

Copyright 2014 WIS. All rights reserved.

 

Dear Teachers...

Thank you for what you are about to take on! All those bright shining faces awaiting your direction and your enthusiasm for a brand new year! We’re so excited for the year ahead.  

When you look around your classroom next week, you’ll see that every kid just wants to blend in with everyone else in your classroom – just to fit in as if nothing is wrong. But of course you know this already. Teachers, you are the main reporters of child abuse. You are the eyes and ears in your classroom. You know what’s going on with all of those children and for that we are thankful.

On those first few days of school, you might notice some things out of place. Maybe someone’s clothes aren’t clean. Maybe there’s a bruise. Maybe homework isn’t getting done. Maybe someone doesn’t have a backpack. Maybe there’s a stomach growling because someone didn’t have breakfast…or dinner the night before. Maybe someone is falling asleep because they slept on the floor.

 

We just thank you for taking extra good care of every child in your classroom. These kids who might have something out of place? Well, they might be Palmetto Place kids. Really, our kids are the same as every other kid. They want the same things – to be loved, taken care of, paid attention to, praised, helped. But our kids might just have an extra layer or two of stress, abuse, neglect, abandonment. They may have just arrived at our home, with no change of clothes, no backpack.

 

So, teachers, keep up the good work. Love them all, like you do each and every year. Find patience for the daily struggles. Call us when you need us. We’re here to support our kids and support you. Our mission is to make daily life as good as it can possibly be while in foster care. We’re your partners and we’re grateful for what you do for our kids.

 

With gratitude,

The Palmetto Place Family

Back-to-School

love late summer. I loved it even more when I was a kid, though, because it meant the heat was about to subside (finally). It meant it was almost time to go back to school--and yes, I was the kind of kid who loved school. It also meant I got all sorts of fun new outfits, new shoes, new notebooks and sharp crayons. It was a ritual in my family growing up, and this was the most exciting time of year for shopping.

But many of the children who come to us at Palmetto Place aren't used to having new back-to-school outfits. We believe providing that milestone is important for children's sense of stability, and the development of their individuality. Picking out a particular outfit gives children an opportunity to express themselves, and explore their identities. Won't you help us give that experience to a child this year?

We ask that you consider donating money or giftcards to Palmetto Place Children's Shelter this month to help us prepare for back-to-school shopping. We do most of our shopping at Belk, Marshall's, JC Penny, WalMart, Payless, and Rackroom, but gifts to other stores are always appreciated.

We thank you for your continued support of the Palmetto Place family.

Mother's Day

Today's post is from Kat Heavner, one of our grad students. Happy Mother's Day and we hope you enjoy this story! I happened to be in the kitchen a few days ago when one of our house parents was welcoming a 4-year-old home from school.

“How was your day?”

“Great!”

She was preparing his snack, and he was busily sweeping some imaginary pile of crumbs from the kitchen floor. This particular child loves to sweep the floor, loves being praised for being helpful.

“Did you kiss your brain yet?” The house parent asked him.

I looked to the child, at this, since I’d never heard anyone in the house use that phrase, but she said it so naturally that I could tell this was a ritual between the two of them, and I wanted to see what his response would be. He kissed the palm of his hand with the enthusiasm that only 4-year-olds can muster, but then seemed to forget the rest of what he was expected to do. The house parent pointed to her own forehead and prompted him—“Where’s your brain? Kiss your brain.” He slapped his palm to his scalp, made a loud mmmmmwah! kissing noise, and gave the house parent a huge grin. “That’s right!” she said. “You need to kiss your brain to say thank you. That’s how you remember that you’re a smart boy.”

“Yep! I’m a smart boy!”

 

These are the kinds of moments I remember when I reflect on Mother’s Day this year. I’m grateful for such moments of kindness that pass between our staff and our residents, for their ability to wade patiently through emotional and physical hurts, to recreate family dinners and afternoons at the park in otherwise unusual circumstances. What small moments are you remembering today?