The History of FosterClub
The story of FosterClub begins in Seaside, Oregon back in 1996. A young couple had purchased a new home, and were busy with renovations. Two young boys, ages 10 and 12, began visiting their mother’s boyfriend who had been helping with the renovations. The homeowners, Celeste and Jeff Bodner, invited the boys in for a snack from time to time. And, although the boyfriend stopped showing up to the worksite, the two brothers didn’t.
The Bodners soon learned the boys had been sneaking into a shed behind the house for shelter, spending the nights with no toothbrush, no pillow, no electricity. The children had been wandering for days throughout the area, not attending school, not changing clothes, and not eating. Without reliable family to take them in, child protective services intervened. When faced with the possibility of having to be separated, the boys pleaded the caseworker to ask the young couple, the ones with the shed, to take them in.
The Bodners agreed to care for the boys for a short time while their mother got the help she needed. They went through the requisite background checks, forty hours of foster parent training, reviewed binders of informational materials and made use of a list they were provided that contained the names of experienced foster parents. But at the same time, the two boys were not provided any information about foster care, not so much as a pamphlet, to tell them what was going on. Celeste was struck that they received no list of their rights, no explanation about what foster care is or how to navigate it, no resources or peers they could contact who had foster care experience. The boys actually thought they had done something wrong, because they didn’t understand what was happening when they were removed from their mother.
This was the beginning of FosterClub.
Celeste Bodner founded FosterClub in 2000 to help fill the gap she perceived her boys — and other children and youth in foster care in America — were experiencing: a lack of access to a peer support group and information to help them navigate the foster care system. Although she had no financial support, Celeste was able to use her 10 years of experience in graphic design and marketing to build a website for children and youth in foster care. With that, www.fosterclub.org was born. She became devoted to helping youth understand the foster care system – even as she was working to figure it out for herself.
After a year on the internet, FosterClub became a popular site for young people in foster care, as noted by the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative, which became the first official funder. of FosterClub. The children and youth who became members were able to connect with peers, share their experiences with others (confidentially), read inspiring stories about famous former foster kids, and find answers to their questions using the first 24-hour, 7-days a week resource built specifically for them.
, FosterClub was contracted to host Teen Conferences in several states. To prepare for these three-day events, Bodner enlisted foster youth she had met at a previous foster youth camp to serve as interns. She soon realized the power of connection and inspiration that the youth interns brought to groups of other young people experiencing similar foster care situations. Over time, the internship program grew from a group of 6 young leaders into the current All Star Program, a group of 24. All-Stars are competitively selected youth who are sponsored by their state to serve in this year-long internship. The All Star interns are now recognized as leaders on the national foster care scene, and through their stories continue to affect the landscape of policy and practice, significantly improving the lives of children and youth still in foster care.
Today FosterClub has over 44,606 members. Each year, the FosterClub All-Stars teach and inspire thousands of foster youth across the country. In 2015, FosterClub’s peer leaders trained 2,500 youth across the country.
FosterClub’s young leaders have made hundreds of visits to policymakers in Washington, D.C., and in the states, playing a lead role in the raising awareness about the need for changes to foster care policies and practices. FosterClub’s All-Stars were critical in asking for changes to the system, which resulted in the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008 (public law 110-351), which has significantly improved foster care services for children and youth across the country.
FosterClub now has the help of 11 full-time staff to carry out their programming. The board of directors and staff are continuously seeking ways to expand FosterClub's reach, so that even more youth in foster care will have what they need to thrive.