THE STATISTICS ARE GRIM for young adults who age out of foster care. Unemployment, incarceration and early parenthood are too frequently part of life for these individuals—nearly 40 percent of whom are
homeless by age 24.
When Kelly McCormick learned the fate of these
youths, the Summit woman decided to take action.
“People are surprised to find out there is no support for an individual who ages out of foster care,”
says McCormick, the mother of two grown children.
“The consequences are that this teenager is in a
DYFS office on their 18th birthday and not even able
to finish high school in the same place because they
can’t afford to live in that town anymore.” (New Jersey’s child welfare agency, formerly DYFS, is now the
Division of Child Protection and Permanency.)
Roots & Wings, a Denville-based nonprofit,
helps these individuals find safe housing, achieve
educational goals, secure employment and learn ba-
sic life skills like balancing a check book and sched-
uling a doctor’s appointment. The program claims
an outstanding success rate, with 100 percent of cli-
ents finding housing and graduating high school or
earning their GED.
Nancy Bigelson, president of the Roots & Wings
board, says McCormick has been instrumental in
helping the organization—which began as a grass-roots startup of “women around a kitchen table” in
1999—become a full-fledged program with a cheery
office in Denville and a full-time staff. McCormick
started working with the organization in 2007. With
her help, Roots & Wings last year was able to secure
a $500,000 gift from an angel donor for a permanent office in Denville, which has become a refuge
for current and former clients. The office has a media center, counseling room, food pantry, and den
with couches and video games. There’s even a space
for birthday parties and celebrations.
Before Roots & Wings, many of these young
adults had never celebrated a birthday. McCormick
shares a story of clients who were asked to make gift
wish lists during the holidays and could not come
up with anything. “They have no idea what to ask
for and have never wished for anything,” she says.
“‘What would you want or like?’ is something they
ROOTS & WINGS
have never been asked.” —JOANNA BUFFUM