When our daughter graduated from high school, my husband and I invited friends and family to a local restaurant to celebrate.
With each of her brothers, we put up a banner on the front porch railing and had a cookout.
They all knew people wanted to salute their success and help them move on to their next challenge.
Children in foster care who graduate from high school or a two-year or four-year college program may not have that pleasure or sense of belonging to an extended group of people who care about them.
The support group Foster and Adoptive Families of Fayette County, with help from the non-profit Thursday's Child, Inc., wants to change that, but they need your help.
The groups are hosting "Celebrating 2010 Foster Youth Graduates," an event at which at least 25 foster youth will be applauded for their successes.
Virginia Sturgeon, a retired state adoption specialist and adoptive parent, said Foster and Adoptive Families is open to all families whether their adoptions were public, private or international.
Thursday's Child, Inc., a charity that supports the state's Special Needs Adoption Program, has donated gift cards for the graduates, said Eric Minton, president.
There is real reason to celebrate during this graduation season. Far more than other teens, foster youth cross numerous hurdles to graduate high school.
Most are not in the classroom.
Some 20,000 foster-care youth nationwide also face the uncertainties of sudden emancipation. More than 600 of them are in Kentucky. Once they turn 18 or graduate from high school they are out of the state system and essentially on their own.
While some file for extended care and support from the state while continuing their educations, many become negative statistics.
They face higher rates of unemployment, substance abuse, jail time, dependency on welfare and single parenthood than youth with permanent homes. Many are homeless within three years.
"These kids need to know someone out there cares," said Anne Vandervort, who is coordinating the event for Foster and Adoptive Families. "If you have been bounced around from foster home to foster home, it is hard to feel connected. They don't necessarily have people who honor their accomplishments."
With each change of foster homes, the young people have to find new friends, new connections.
"We are throwing a graduation celebration on June 19 like my parents did for me," Vandervort said.
She said they sent out invitations to each of the graduates who is still in the foster-care system. Each graduate was allowed to invite up to three other people to help them celebrate.
The problem is Foster and Adoptive Families is pretty short on funds.
"It's not going too well," said Sturgeon, president of the group. "We are trying to recognize the youth and we're trying to pass it on word-of-mouth that the more we raise, the more we can do for them.
'We want to give them a graduation picture, some gifts and a nice celebration," she said.
To do that, the support group has joined with the two Carino's Italian Grill restaurants and three Applebee's restaurants for "Dine to Donate," a fund-raiser. The group receives 10 percent of your bill on June 3 or 4.
In order for the support group to get credit, however, you must have a flier in-hand when ordering.
There have been four previous dates for the fund-raiser, but not many people knew about them. Next weekend is your last chance and the last chance for the foster youth to have a nice gathering.
All you have to do is print out a copy of the flier and go out to eat. Sturgeon or Vandervort will e-mail you a copy. Contact them at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The fliers are only valid at Carinos at 2333 Sir Barton Way, or 135 Rojay Drive, or at Applebee's at 910 Beaumont Center Parkway, 1856 Alysheba Way, or 1761 Sharkey Way. Curbside service also qualifies.
"We want to recognize their accomplishments," Minton said.
And there can't be an easier way to help graduating foster youth feel connected than by simply eating out.