Friday, April 19, 2024

Let me mix you a cocktail

I have been plastering myself all over Facebook for a “celebrity” bartending event I will be doing Thursday night at the Boca Morton’s. I know it’s a school night, and I know my friends will be likely be locked into back-to-back “Criminal Minds” but it starts early (5 p.m.) and it is for such a good cause. How good a cause you say? Well, read on—I wrote about this organization in February for this magazine and I was knocked out by what they do. So take a look. And if you do not want to come out for me, come out for them. Hope to see you there!

Getting to Know (February, 2011)

Debbie Ellman and Donna Biase Best Foot Forward

• They are the ones who are left behind: Foster kids who “age out” of the foster care system at 18 and no longer have a place to live, are woefully behind in school, and have no one to turn to. At least until now. Debbie Ellman and Donna Biase—Boca moms and longtime volunteers in the public school system and at Children’s Place at Home Safe—know about the homeless statistics and the dropout rates. That’s why they started Best Foot Forward in January of last year.

• Ellman describes the organization as an educational advocacy group for kids in foster care in Palm Beach County. “As the guardian ad litem helps kids navigate the legal system, we help them navigate the educational system,” she says. “We make sure they are in the right classes; they are with the right teachers. When they age out of foster care, they are on their own; we work with them right through their 18th birthday, through their high school graduation to whatever secondary education they choose.”

• Both believe education is the key to giving these kids a leg up. As Biase says, “The potential counterweight of a negative outcome is having an education, so we try to make sure they have some sort of individualized educational plan in place.”

• Best Foot Forward works with students as early as ninth grade. They go by grades rather than age, as most of the kids are behind in school from all the days they have missed being transferred from home to home over the years. “No one really advocates for these kids,” Ellman says. “When [they reach their senior year], they are so far behind it’s almost impossible to overcome. We realized that they need someone to support them and help them through the process. We need to start when they start high school.”

• The organization provides tutors (and needs volunteers) and helps the kids register, sign up for the right classes, get financial aid. It does not, however, have the ability to help kids get a roof over their heads, another outcome of aging out of the system. “There are not enough beds for the kids who age out,” Ellman says. “Sometimes they go into independent living facilities; if they are lucky enough to have established a relationship with a mentor that person may take them in—but the statistics are horrible for this group.”

• Those are the numbers these two women, mothers of teenagers themselves, want to change. They want to turn the tide of a whole population of youngsters losing their chance at a better life. And no place is immune. “There are plenty of foster kids in this city—right in Boca,” Biase says. For more information, visitbestfoot.org.

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