Merlene Davis: Gift cards will help foster youth celebrate the season

Ian Rosser: "I want people to know that love is important."
Ian Rosser: "I want people to know that love is important."

Ian Rosser is bright, funny and well on his way to a successful life. He has earned an associate's degree from the Bluegrass Community and Technical College and is attending Eastern Kentucky University, studying broadcasting.

Everything about the 22-year-old that meets the eye is just about as normal and as expected as for any other young man his age.

But it is what we don't see, can't see, don't want to see, that makes Rosser different.

Rosser is among the hundreds of foster children in Kentucky who annually age out of the system when they reach the age of 18. But, unlike many, Rosser chose to extend his commitment so that he could have a stipend and guidance to continue his education.

Because so many foster children don't sign on for the extension, Rosser said, some end up homeless, strung out on drugs or pregnant.

He joined the Youth Leadership Council, which serves as an advocate at the state level for youth who are nearing the age of emancipation.

"We talk about sex, about getting food stamps, housing and important stuff you need to know when you are on your own," Rosser said.

Rosser will serve as emcee at the annual Fostering Goodwill Christmas Party for older foster youth who don't have a sense of family or receive gifts that are a part of the holiday season. At the party, free food, games, gift cards and prizes are given out. All current or former foster kids ages 18 to 25 are welcome.

It is his way of giving back, of trying to fill holes in a system that didn't serve him well when he was in state care.

"Ian is a very talented young man and I can see him easily being a motivational speaker in the future," said Jeff Culver, who founded the non-profit Fostering Goodwill with Earl Washington, so that the youth will be acknowledged, appreciated and informed. Both men are social workers, and Washington was formerly in foster care.

Rosser "is one of the most successful youth I have worked with since I have been doing this," said Culver, who has worked in the business for 11 years .

Rosser had to overcome a very difficult start in life to get to where he is now . When he was 8 years old, he began a journey that would carry him through 10 to 15 foster homes by the time he was 15. Some were good, but most were not, he said.

He readily admits he was a difficult child, but some of his acting out stemmed from his foster care placements, starting when he and his mother lived in Florida. His mother was an addict who sought rehabilitation. She left him at age 8 with a friend, who later gained custody of him.

Disputes between his mother and her friend led to his placement in Lexington with an older brother. When that didn't work out, he was placed with an uncle in Maysville, then later moved to his oldest brother's home in Louisville.

His mother regained temporary custody when he was 12, but lost it when she was charged the very next day with driving under the influence. The next three years had high and low points until he finally reached a home in Danville.

"I stayed there until I turned 18," Rosser said. "It was the best one by far. I just loved Danville. I flourished in the high school where people embraced me and thought I was funny and great," he said.

The only rule his foster mother had, he said, was to respect everyone and every thing. He wants to take what he learned in Danville and help other foster youth.

For Rosser, much of his foster care experience was "a negative experience, filled with a lot of pain and grief."

"You yearn for family," Rosser said. "My biggest argument as far as the system is concerned and how it functions is that you can't pay somebody to love somebody. Stuff like that matters. I needed a whole bunch of that love because my Mom had given it to me."

While he was in foster care, he received food, clothing and shelter. But that is not nurturing, not family, not love.

"I want people to know that love is important," Rosser said. "You can't hire that."

The Christmas party, he said, is a great thing for the foster care community. In some cases, it brings together former foster parents with the youth they helped to mold.

But the program needs our help to provide gift cards to those youth who might not get anything for Christmas. I ask for your help every year because this is one of those programs, especially in these dour economic times, that gets little publicity or notice.

These youth have no bells ringing for them, no pleas for help in your mail box, no names handed out. But I think they are just as deserving.

See if you can find a few dollars you have squirreled away to help these young people get off to a better start in the adult world.

You can either buy a $25 gift card for Wal-Mart, Target or Kroger, or send a check so Culver or Washington can buy some. Either way works. The deadline is Dec. 15.

Any foster youth who qualify should call Culver at (502) 741-9527 to RSVP.

Rosser's mother is drug and alcohol free now and they have forged a good relationship, he said. But he will be spending Thanksgiving with his foster family in Danville — what he calls home.

When asked if he had anything else to say, Rosser said, "See if you can find a place to say 'if God didn't take care of me, I wouldn't be where I am today.'"

Consider it done.