I’ve always been an optimist – a silver lining, light at the end of the tunnel, glass is half full kind of person. Even when I was a teenager and was placed in the North Carolina foster care system with my younger sister (I was in 10th grade and she was in 9th), I was able to tap into my optimism and remain hopeful for the future. We moved to a group home in another town for a few months, leaving the school where we had attended for seven years and saying goodbye to all our childhood friends. Then we were moved to an emergency shelter where two year-long beds had opened up, and we stayed there for several more months.
In the middle of my junior year, our uncle was able to make arrangements for us to move from North Carolina to Maryland where we lived a short time with our grandmother, changing schools yet again. She felt she was too old to take care of two teenage girls, and in the summer before my senior year, my uncle again stepped in and made arrangements for us to move in with his in-laws (my aunt’s brother and sister-in-law) who happened to be foster parents in the Pennsylvania system at the time. We didn’t know them, but they took us in and we have been part of their family ever since.
We were among the fortunate ones. Too many youth in foster care do not have the support that we had and they struggle tremendously with the transition to adulthood, and that is why I started Aging Out Institute (AOI) in 2010. I wanted to give back, and I decided to do so by tapping into my computer, training, and project management skills and creating a way to connect foster youth across the country with resources that can help them prepare for aging out and that will support them after they age out. In addition, with five years of experience running a global awards program that recognized successful training organizations from large companies such as Microsoft, Mars, Inc., and MillerCoors, I knew I could apply those skills to my passion and run a national awards program dedicated to recognizing foster parents and organizations that are doing great things to help youth age out of foster care, and capturing their strategies so others can benefit from them.
As you can see above, I remain an optimist and I have big plans for AOI. I look forward to continuing this work over the years by building out AOI’s capacity to serve foster youth and the dedicated professionals who work with them. I thank you for considering sponsorship of the new AOI Awards Program, and I hope I can speak with you about it soon.
Lynn Tonini, M.Ed., CPLP