Seeds of Hope: Happier Landings

Kelly McCormick of Roots & Wings helps children who age out of foster care find safe housing, achieve educational goals, and learn basic life skills.

Kelly McCormick
Kelly McCormick works with Roots & Wings, a non-profit which helps children who have aged out of foster care receive education, housing, and learn basic life skills.
Photo by John Emerson

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 basic life skills like balancing a check book and scheduling a doctor’s appointment. The program claims an outstanding success rate, with 100 percent of clients 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 grassroots 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 have never been asked.”

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