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'Bessie's Angels' extends safety net for teens aging out of foster care

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Posted at 5:31 PM, May 23, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-23 20:19:11-04

CLEVELAND — A milestone birthday often brings with it a bit of uncertainty for teens living in foster care. At 18, they age out of the system.

"When I aged out, I was just basically thrown out there," said Janisha Butler.

For Butler, facing the challenges of a fresh start, solo, was a lot to handle.

"I didn't know how to pay bills or anything," said Butler.

It's a story that plays out hundreds of times a year in Cuyahoga County alone.

"They're walking around invisible," said Tonya Perkins-Stoudermire, Bessie's Angels.

Perkins-Stoudermire started a non-profit, named after her grandmother, Bessie.

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"My grandma was my spiritual mentor," said Perkins-Stoudermire.

Bessie’s Angels helps young women leaving the foster care system get a strong start.

"They were having issues young women have, they just didn't have anyone to help them," said Perkins-Stoudermire.

Perkins-Stoudermire and her team provide that helping hand in a nurturing way.

"There are so many things tied to being nurtured and loved and provided for," said Perkins-Stoudermire.

Since opening her first Bessie's Place" in 2017, a home for those transitioning out of foster care, Perkins-Stoudermire has opened two more.

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"I became homeless at 17 and Bessie's Angels gave me a place to stay," said Cashea Odom, Bessie's Angels participant.

At first, securing housing was priority number one, but it didn't take long for Bessie's Angels to start providing workshops on managing money.

"How to write a check, because I did not, what was a check?" said Butler.

There are also cooking classes.

"We did a chicken alfredo, now I'm a genius at it," said Butler.

In addition to boosting self-esteem and personal care, Bessie's Angels provides rental and utility assistance, bus passes, clothing, and household supplies.

"My young people need people and they should be able to call somebody," said Perkins-Stoudermire.

Bessie’s Angels is now calling on the community to join the mission.

On June 5, Bessie's Place will hold a walk at Edgewater Park to raise funds for this important outreach.

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"When people see a whole bunch of people someplace, they want to know what's going on and at that point our young people become visible," said Perkins-Stoudermire.

Bessie’s Angels is looking to raise $50,000 – money that will give women like Cashea Odom a chance to make it on her own.

"It made me look at them different, and more than just people with a nonprofit, it made me look at them as family. I want to be able to give back just like Bessie's Angels," said Odom.