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Patch Blog: This Boy Desperately Needs a Home

A 13-year-old boy in foster care has been searching for a home since he was six—in a desperate battle against time.

Ricky is 13 years old. He loves fish and Converse shoes. He wants to be a chef when he grows up. He’s praying for a Bender robot figure from for Christmas.

It’s Sunday. We’re going to my place to make holiday cookies—at his request. When we get there, I balance a grocery bag with one hand and fumble for my keys with the other, tossing my purse onto a chair on my porch in the process. As I forget about the purse and stumble inside, Ricky picks it up and hands it to me wordlessly, a soft, loving reprimand in his eyes.

That’s just one small example of Ricky’s awareness of the need to watch out for yourself—of a maturity that seems beyond his years. I reflect on his gesture, and vow to be more responsible with my things.

Battle Against Time

A seven-year veteran of the foster care system, Ricky knows how to combine caution with care—one among many lessons he has learned. He may even be aware of the gloomy statistics that could easily become a reality for him and thousands of other foster youth in similar situations:

Nearly 50 percent of children who “age out” of foster care will experience homelessness within two years, 60 percent will earn incomes below the federal poverty level, and although 70 percent of the kids exiting foster care report that they want to go to college, only one percent actually graduate from one.

We could focus on such negatives, but like Ricky, I prefer not to. After all, I am his “Weekend Miracles” host, which means that I spend time with him on a regular basis. As his mentor and weekend host, I take Ricky out into the community with me and arrange fun events and new experiences.

We have participated in a cooking class with a professional chef, attended a Dodgers game, shared a meal at and, of course, baked cookies. We have also attended various adoption fairs in hopes of finding Ricky a permanent family. Ricky is well aware that, at his age, this is his last year to attend some of these adoption fairs—he will soon be too old to qualify. Which is why Ricky signs up for each one without hesitation.

Resilient—Despite Constant Rejection

Each time I arrive to pick him up, I find him with his hair combed and styled, dressed in his freshest clothes. One day, I noticed that he had even changed his shoelaces. Still, no family has come forward to offer Ricky a home. His parents are unable to care for him themselves. He does get to see his siblings occasionally—all of whom found permanent homes at a younger age. Sadly, Ricky did not have the same good fortune.

As the years pass, the challenge grows exponentially. The odds of adoption for teenage boys are brutally low. Unlike Ricky, many in this age group exhibit serious emotional or behavioral disturbance, perform poorly in school, or face other challenges. Ricky’s resiliency—not to mention his good nature, excellent performance in school and high emotional intelligence—are exceptional in a boy who has faced the kind of constant rejection he has.  

Ricky lives in a group home with about a dozen other adolescent boys. Although it is better run than many other group homes, it is not a welcoming or comforting environment. There is an institutional feel to the place and the cafeteria-style meals. It really doesn’t feel like “home.” 

Ricky’s warm demeanor inevitably changes when I take him back to the group home. The polite, generous and almost innocent spirit that has endeared him to me would not serve him well in a minimally supervised building of teenage boys raised with little or no parental affection.

'Heartbreak Hotel'

When we return with homemade cookies, Ricky gruffly announces that he made them for the house. Then, with a final passing look, our connection is over. Ricky withdraws, arms folded across his chest as he sinks into a couch to watch whichever action movie on TV that happens to be playing.

As I head out the door, the heavy-heartedness that invariably colors our goodbyes sinks in as if for the first time. I begin to walk across the grass to my car, but this time I hear a metal door open, and turn around to find Ricky running toward me.

“Vanessa!” he calls out as he approaches. “Will you take care of my fish this time?” A few months ago, he downloaded TapFish 2 on my iPhone. It’s a game in which the user maintains a virtual aquarium of fish. Ricky plays with it obsessively during our drives together. Every weekend, he gently ribs me. “You let almost all the fish die,” he says. “The aquarium is filthy and they’re starving!” Then he tirelessly builds up his collection again.

“Here, I can show you—it’s easy,” he pleads. I grudgingly agree. Ricky opens the Tap Fish 2 app, with its menu of 12 icons. “Just once a day, press the 'Sponge' to clean the tank, like this,” he tells me. His finger swipes the icon across the iPhone screen, wiping away a layer of make-believe green algae obscuring our vision of the fish.

“And then after that, just the basics—press ‘Food Canister,’” Ricky continues. As he does so, little flakes of food float silently into the mouths of the multicolor, exotic fish. “That gives them food to eat,” he says, adding: “Then hit the ‘Heart’ button here—because obviously they need love.”

With an appreciative nod, Ricky turns on his heel and walks back inside, while I stand transfixed in the twilight, absorbing his second lesson of the day. 

For an opportunity to get to know Ricky, contact Vanessa by email or phone (see below) to arrange to join them on an activity in or around Eagle Rock. Both Ricky and Vanessa love frozen yogurt, trips to the zoo, cooking and eating tacos. To learn more about Kidsave, an international charity group that advocates for Ricky and other adolescent and teenage foster children, click here, and also contact Sybil Prince by email or phone (details below). Kidsave’s monthly events provide a great way for adults interested in mentoring, fostering or adopting a child to meet local foster youth, aged nine years and more, who need mentors and permanent homes.

Vanessa Brunkhorst
vanessa@knowthyskin.com
(310) 913-2022

Sybil Prince
sybil@kidsave.org
(310) 642-SAVE (7283), ext. 10

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Allison December 22, 2011 at 01:31 AM
Vanessa, I found your blog about Ricky so touching. You really brought this remarkable child to life. I noticed this blog has been recommended on Facebook dozens of times. I hope this brings Ricky together with some great people. Please keep us posted. How else can people help, even if they have no scope to foster or adopt Ricky? Thanks for a beautifully written story!
Vanessa Brunkhorst December 23, 2011 at 04:50 AM
Most important thing to do? SHARE THIS STORY and you might be the one to solve this problem! Take time to forward this to people in your community that could be the one or know the one who could give him a home. Post on facebook, share by email, twitter. The response on this article has been remarkable, I am so proud of our community. A few readers have reached out asking to spend time with him, one even went out and bought the Bender robot! What Ricky really needs most though is a person or family with space in their life, home, and schedule. Let's try and find them. If you want to help more directly, but cant provide a 24/7 home or support, then volunteer with KidSave and advocate/mentor for another boy or girl in need!
Jean December 28, 2011 at 10:18 PM
Jean 2:17 pm on Wednesday, December 28, 2011 Hi: I've been with Kidsave for about three years now and mentored a 16 year old who actually got adopted from a relative. I met Ricky at the Kidsave holiday event in Pasadena. I was his secret Santa. And told him he had a gift waiting from Santa. He was so cute and adorable. I hope he was able to spend his Target gift certificate I got for him (from Santa)? :) Would love to find a kid like Ricky to mentor. I live in Burbank. Jean :)
Julie Walmsley March 14, 2012 at 03:15 AM
Vanessa: Just want to tell you that Ricky's story moved me. I am sure I represent just one of hundreds (maybe thousands) of people who have by now read about him and thought about how to contribute. I clicked back here tonight after first reading this at the end of last year, hoping for a happy update. I have thought about what I can do - I'm a reporter with a pretty good grip of non-profits and available public services - but everything I can think of would support him in after-school activities, mentorship, etc. I know that he really needs a permanent home with available and committed guardians. I will continue to keep Ricky in mind, and I will tweet a link to this. Kind regards, Julie
Vanessa Brunkhorst March 14, 2012 at 03:34 AM
Julie I am touched by your response to the article. Ricky is doing well, but still in need of a home. Spreading the word is great, thank you for tweeting, facebook sharing, etc. Do you know parents who have adopted before or ever thought about adopting? Email it directly to them. There are also lots of boys and girls in the foster care system who don't even have the small fortune of having a mentor. If you have any interest in becoming a mentor yourself please call me or get in touch with Sybil from KidSave at sybil@kidsave.org (310) 642-SAVE (7283), ext. 10 I still believe we will find a happy resolution to Ricky's search for a home. He's a great kid and I know deep in my heart that he's going to find his way.
Julie Walmsley March 14, 2012 at 04:00 AM
Vanessa, I don't know any potential adoptive parents for Ricky but I think I have an idea about how some might be found. I went to UCLA, where lots of my fellow alums were and are involved in mentorship. One TA in particular (now a very good friend) is involved in mentorship and tutoring and in training mentors and tutors. I am thinking if he gets the word out, one of the mentors/tutors who help fostered/adopted kids might know parents/guardians interested in adopting. I also volunteer for the Red Cross, though I haven't been around in a while, and there are many good people there with a lot of community involvement. Another thing I am thinking of is his career goal. Before returning to school to become a journalist, I worked in hospitality for a long time and I know many people who might help him along the way to become a chef a little later, but not sure what could be done starting at age 13. Outside of a formal internship, having him in a kitchen is a liability (kitchens are dangerous places). Maybe I can find a chef with some spare time to become a 2nd mentor to him. Hmm. Well, I will keep on thinking about it.
Vanessa Brunkhorst March 14, 2012 at 06:58 AM
Julie I just sent you a private message. Thank you for the amazing ideas, it's amazing when you look with fresh eyes at something how many great ideas you can contribute - thank you!

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