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Thursday, May 13, 2021

Fostering Success

Senior Jonathan Park stands for a portrait in Haskell Plaza. // Photo by Caleb Galbreath
Senior Jonathan Park stands for a portrait in Haskell Plaza. // Photo by Caleb Galbreath

When senior Jonathan Park talks about his Teen Growth Leadership Camp, the same few words always come up — he wants to make a difference.

Park is hoping to make a significant change in the lives of foster children, many of whom fail to succeed through college due to lack of resources, he said.

Park’s dream camp, a three-day overnight affair, hopes to accomplish just that. The goal for his project is to inspire students that will come after him, and show them that they can chase their dreams like creating the leadership camp, Park said.

“I feel like this would be a huge way of paying it forward to the [local] community,” Park said. “The community has been such a blessing in my life, this would be a huge honor to leave a legacy that goes beyond myself and serves kids and other people in the community.”

Describing himself as motivated and driven, Park feels like he’s able to do what other people are not able to do. In his eyes, his motivation makes him a great candidate to make a difference, Park said.

So far, Park has made contact with investors, as well as other foster care organizations for research purposes. There is already one investor on board, Park said.

There is still much to be considered for his project, Park said. While he wants it to be a yearly event, he’s unsure of how he will work it out. He still hopes to see it become sustainable, however, as other organizations have proven that the model is successful, he said.

The next step for Park will be drafting a marketing plan, he said. Eventually he wants to become a nonprofit organization.

Park’s biggest motivator has been his friend Justin Kooistra, whom he met at Whatcom Community College. Kooistra is who made him believe his dream was possible, Park said.

Kooistra speaks from experience as he was once a foster child and was adopted at a young age. His experience revealed just how much the foster care system can lack stability, Kooistra said.

Through the struggles and challenges that Kooistra faced, Park came to realize that people have it worse than he does. If Kooistra could overcome the struggles that he had, Park said, then Park could as well.

“There are a lot of foster kids that move place to place because there’s behavioral issues or because the foster parents just don’t have the room for them,” Kooistra said. “They get false hopes.”

Even though he was never in foster care, his experiences could inspire the children in his camp, Park said. His own experience growing up led the project to become something he feels personally invested in, Park said.

“I was, in a sense, abused as a child,” Park said. “I can relate to a lot of these kids’ situations, even if it’s not on the same level.”

Currently, the Royal Family Kids Camp, a national group providing resources for foster children, provides resources and care for kids aged 6-12, according to their site. But it leaves a major gap for kids in the 12-17 age bracket.

A program located in Whatcom county, called Skookum House, seeks to create a facility to care for children within the foster care system.

Park’s camp will give older foster kids the chance to take on leadership roles. . Research has shown that foster kids in leadership positions have a bigger impact than the average person, he said.

According to a study conducted by Angelique Day and Rosalind Kirk for the Children and Youth Services Review, students reported feeling more motivated when speakers and leaders were foster care alumni.

“Foster youth can have success. They can go to college, and they can have a good career,” Kooistra said. “I feel like that’s been lost on a lot of them.”

Ten percent of foster kids will attend a college, and only 3 percent will graduate, according to the website of Promises 2 Kids, an organization dedicated to helping support the needs of foster children.

One of the major limitations in foster care is the lack of resources they have for success, Park said.

While Park’s project is still in the early stages, he is currently seeking alumni foster children to help his project along. He needs other strengths to play with his.

“There are no words that can express my gratitude for so many people who have opened my doors.”

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