Until a couple weeks ago, I had never heard of the verb “True Up.” At a recent event in downtown Louisville, a distinguished-looking gentleman named Frank Harshaw defined it as, “to make level; to square; to bring into correct balance.” This soft-spoken guy is a highly successful local business leader, who owns a Trane air conditioning firm. But it was neither air conditioning mechanics nor his business’ bottom line that Frank wanted to “True Up.” Instead, Frank’s passion is to “True Up” the odds for foster children aging out of care.
An unusual advocate for the issue? Not if you know that Frank himself was a foster kid. And when Frank talks about going from foster care settings to business prominence, he is as humble as he is perceptive. He knows the uphill climb. He knows the ghosts that seemingly haunt every step of that journey. He knows the obstacles that block every door.
But Frank also knows that a successful transition out of foster care, into adulthood is achievable with the right supports. The problem, of course, is that for every Frank who combined community support with his/her own abilities, there are hundreds of other young people who simply fall by the wayside. The numbers say that the wayside to which they fall is all too often homelessness or prison. So Frank started “True Up” as a collaborative initiative of 8 agencies in Louisville, including Bellewood, Boys and Girls Haven, Brooklawn, Home of the Innocents, Maryhurst, Metro United Way, St. Joseph Children’s Home and Sunrise Children’s Services.
At the Louisville event I mentioned earlier, local figures, agency executives and foster care youth and alumni talked about several important projects to support youth. All of those offer real promise. However, what captured the spirits of the more than a hundred folks who gathered was an opportunity to influence real policy change with the voices of foster care youth and alumni.
You see, Frank, leaders of those foster care agencies and, most importantly, the foster care youth and alums themselves get it. Stories like Frank’s about incredible individual successes are inspirational, but they are not enough. We cannot abide a system in which we have to count on luck – the luck of placement; the luck of finding the right adult influences; the luck of being in the right place at the right time. We have to re-invent … we have to “True-Up” the system supports for youth who are aging out of foster care, for moving to independent living, for successfully pursuing post-secondary training, be that at a technical school or a four year university.
In the coming year, KYA will be working with these foster care alumni to help them advocate for policy change. And we can’t wait. What will it mean for these alums to offer real solutions to the House and Senate Health and Welfare Committee? What will a chance mean for these alums to eyeball President Jim Ramsey and tell him what it really meant to be a U of L student trying to make it on the Belknap Campus as they aged out of care? What messages will embolden the Louisville business community to see these alums as venture human capital in which to invest rather than a population to ignore?
Stay tuned. While this nascent effort has only begun, I have a hunch. Knowing Frank’s determined backbone and compassionate heart; knowing the professionalism that marks the participating agencies; and, feeling the power and resonance in the foster alums’ voices, we may just be ready to “True Up” a piece of the foster care system that will make a difference for today and the future.