Foster-care coordinator Keri Flynn helps fill in the gaps for teens who do not have forever families to guide them.
Sanford resident Keri Flynn is a natural when it comes to raising teenagers. This is an especially good thing, since she looks out for hundreds of young adults as the director of youth services at Embrace Families (formerly known as Community Based Care of Central Florida).
“I love working directly with this age group on a daily basis,” says Keri, who serves the tri-county area from the Embrace Families headquarters just outside of Oviedo. “Our number-one priority is to provide these teens with skills and knowledge to be successful and independent when they become legal adults and age out of the foster-care system.”
Although they are not technically her children, Keri and the other members of the youth-services team remain committed to guiding these teens through all of life’s major moments.
“We help them learn to drive, find housing, and manage their education and employment – things a parent would do for a child,” Keri says.
Over the years, hundreds of young adults have come to rely on Keri for her maternal instinct.
“Some need a safe place to stay, some are experiencing pain and sadness, and many just want to feel loved,” says Keri, who carries her work phone with her everywhere and sleeps with it by her side at night. “Unfortunately, some don’t have regular access to a phone, and I would hate to miss a call from someone who is in need of help.”
Keri says that one of the most difficult aspects of her job is not being able to take in everyone.
“We recently had a couple of kids who didn’t have a place to stay, and my first inclination is to say they can come home with me, but there is always going to be another child,” says Keri. “My heart breaks for them.”
But the success stories shine through.
Two former foster teens who aged out of the system were recently hired to work at Embrace Families. Today, they help current foster-care teens obtain a driver’s license through the organization’s Keys to Independence program.
“Who better to work here than someone who knows exactly what it is like to go through our program?” Keri asks, rhetorically.
Keri stays in touch with many of her teens even after they have moved on. One such teen recently met her goal of earning an associate’s degree.
“She sent me a copy of her grades and invited me to attend her graduation in Clearwater,” says Keri. “Of course, I went to watch her walk, and now she is going for her bachelor’s degree!”
Keri tells of another hardworking young mother who was able to purchase a car of her own.
“She is married, paying her bills, and raising her two children completely differently from how she was brought up,” Keri beams.
Keri does have three children of her own – Katelyn (age 13), Isabelle (10), and Aiden (6) – and her family reinforces the belief that all kids deserve to grow up in safe, stable, and loving homes.
When it comes to the teenagers she serves at Embrace Families, Keri often finds herself repeating some motherly advice.
“I tell my teens that this is their life, and they can choose to be successful,” she says. “I encourage them to slow down and think and ask for help if they need it.”
Even though her words may not always sink in right away, Keri reports that sometimes her teens come back in a few years to say that she was right!
“The best part is when these kids look at me, smile, and say thank you, and I know they really mean it,” Keri says. “That is the reason I do this.”
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