Teens in foster care don’t have it easy.
They suffer from PTSD at twice the rate of veterans, they’re often separated from their siblings, and they get shuffled from one placement to another more often than younger children. That’s why SmileDirectClub teamed up with Together We Rise, a nonprofit that supports children in foster care, to present a pair of day-long Confidence Camps for 20 teens in a foster home in Southern California.
SmileDirectClub also provided free treatments to 20 teens in foster care—because straight teeth can make everyone feel a little bit better.
“Teens in the foster care system are often overlooked, and they don’t get the attention and support that they need,” says Gianna Dahlia, executive director of Together We Rise. “They struggle with self-esteem and confidence. That’s why we were so excited to work with SmileDirectClub to offer the camps and the treatments.
“They’re giving them the tools they need to go through this traumatic time and feel good about themselves.”
The Confidence Camps were held on September 26 and October 3 at a foster care in Orange County. Twelve boys and nine girls aged 13 to 18 participated, with one camp for the girls and a second for the boys.
The boys had a video game competition, built skateboards, and binge-watched the “Mission Impossible” franchise for a movie night. The girls had a spa day with pedicures and facials, and they tie-dyed shirts. The highlight of the day for each group was a talk via Zoom with a celebrity influencer. Collin Sexton, point guard for the Cleveland Cavaliers, spoke to the boys, and Madison Bailey, star of the Netflix drama “Outer Banks,” spoke to the girls.
“The boys were super excited when they got to talk to Collin,” Dahlia says. “He was really engaging with them and answered all of their questions.”
Bailey, who was adopted, connected with the girls about the foster care experience. “Madison talked with them about how to build confidence, what it means being in foster care, what it means to be a woman of color in her industry, and bullying. All teens are facing bullying,” Dahlia says.
The celebrity encounters were, of course, a big deal for the foster kids, as they would be for any teens. But it says a lot about these kids’ experiences that they received so much joy from some of the more everyday parts of the event. The girls got robes to wear during their spa treatment, and they were a huge hit. “They didn’t take them off all day,” Dahlia says
The teens also got catered food at the camps, which was an extra special treat. ‘They usually get cafeteria food, so they were super excited about the food,” Dahlia says.
The Confidence Camps were originally supposed to be in-person, at a park, but the COVID-19 pandemic pushed the event online and onsite at the foster care facility. Like everyone else in America, the teens have been quarantined for months. They haven’t been able to go to school or to the summer camps that usually get them out into the world.”Foster care in general is tough, but now they’re quarantined in a group home,” Dahlia says. “This event meant a lot to them because it was a great opportunity to present a day of fun activities so they could alleviate some stress.”
“Knowing that teens in the foster care system often don’t get the support they need, let alone a day full of fun, SmileDirectClub wanted to help provide that.” says Julia Wicoff, SmileDirectClub’s purpose platform director. “Together We Rise was the perfect partner because they help kids in the foster care system every day. Together We Rise helped SmileDirectClub achieve our goal of giving the teens a fun day focused on confidence, but also the goal of giving the teens a lifetime of confidence through a smile they love.”
Together We Rise was founded in 2008 by Danny Mendoza, who, after learning his 8-year-old cousin was living in a car, dedicated his energy to making life better for vulnerable youth. The volunteer-based nonprofit is run by young adults with a passion for changing the lives of the more than 400,000 children in the U.S. foster care system.
They work with donors to provide duffle bags, bikes, skateboards, trips, shopping sprees, and college scholarships to children in foster care. They help 250 kids nationwide in foster care every day, Dahlia says, which works out to around 60,000 kids a year.
Together We Rise partners with the foster system to make sure kids have positive experiences. They connect donors who want to help with kids who need help.
“Not everybody can foster or adopt, so we give people a way to give back,” Dahlia says. “Our funding comes from donors across the country who want to help make the lives of kids in foster care a little better.”
You can learn more about Together We Rise and how to support their mission on their website.