Foster children change homes an average of four to six times every two years, and oftentimes move with nothing but a trash bag of clothes and hope for care, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
A Buda nonprofit CEO and mother, Susan Ramirez, started Austin Angels with the hope of changing local lives. Now, Austin Angels is a national organization serving 21 chapters around the country while still calling Hays County home.
Ramirez’s organization serves 25 Hays County foster families, through the Austin chapter, not including the 230 foster children she helps in Austin.
“Our mission is to get kids to experience care differently,” Ramirez said. “We weren’t going to change anyone’s life trajectory with just a gift basket. Now, our focus is to find at least one healthy adult to walk alongside a child in care and mentor them. We want every single child and every single family to have support.”
Austin Angels matches volunteers, whether they be an individual or a group, with a foster family in an effort to provide support to both the child and the foster family. Ramirez said children move foster homes so frequently because 60% of foster families are often overwhelmed and decide to stop fostering within two years.
The lack of support and a steady home can be seen in the foster care statistics Ramirez is fighting. Kinship House is an Oregon-based support system for foster children and provides data about foster children after they have aged-out of care.
One in five U.S. foster children who reach the age of 18 and have aged out of their state’s care end up homeless within a year, and less than 3% of them will earn a college degree. More than 30% are arrested some time during their life, all according to Kinship House’s research.
Ramirez said she believes that Austin Angel’s mentorship model allows children to stay in their foster homes longer and eventually become adopted, forming a more solid foundation for their growth later in life.
The volunteers practice a concept called intentional giving, which allows foster children and families to effectively communicate their needs, which can be met by the volunteers through their work and money raised.
“Does a family need groceries that month, back-to-school supplies or haircuts?” Ramirez said. “Intentionally giving them what they really need allows them to succeed.”
Additionally, the volunteers work on the concept of relationship building, which Ramirez said helps the foster child and his or her foster family feel they have regular outside guidance and support. Volunteers commit to serve one year with a family and visit them once a month at a minimum.
Austin Angels also helps volunteers provide mentorship to foster children by helping with homework regularly, helping to develop cooking skills, driving skills and working with children on deciding their plans after they graduate high school. Mentorship is also available to those who are no longer in foster care because they aged-out.
Ramirez developed this program over time, after she founded Austin Angels in 2010. Before then, she worked as a real estate agent and sold a home to a social worker who invited her to conference where Ramirez said she found her calling.
“I’m a person of great faith and sometimes I believe God calls us to do big things and our trajectory changes,” Ramirez said. “I believe God intended me to do this work. I had never met a foster family, been in foster care or known much before that conference. It changed everything.”
At first, Ramirez did not even have her program registered as a nonprofit, until a local lawyer wanted to donate money and offered to help her form a 501c3. Austin Angels before becoming a nonprofit was just Ramirez and a group of her friends purchasing and donating needed supplies to area kids.
“I started in 2010 with the idea that I was just going to be a contributing part of society as a volunteer and never thought I’d become a nonprofit,” Ramirez said. “One day, we reached out to everyone on our donation list, including an attorney, who offered a donation but wanted a tax receipt.”
Ramirez’s focus is now to continue Austin Angels’ financial stability. The organization has an annual goal of raising $1.3 million and will be hosting a fundraising gala Oct. 26. Those interested in volunteering or donating can participate online at NationalAngels.org.