MILWAUKEE - A home for the holidays is something many people may take for granted. That's why the Milwaukee organization Lad Lake is supporting some of the community's most vulnerable youth and giving foster kids without a traditional home the feeling of family this holiday season.
"When I was young, I was [taken] from home," Lavante Smith said.
"I went into a group home and foster care and they took care of me for three years," he continued.
Lavante Smith was never adopted before aging out of the foster care system. He's 20 years old now, and living on his own, but he said the holiday season will always be a special time for him.
"It's another year of a Christmas party that I'm able to come to again this time," Smith said.
"Now I'm able to see everybody come together and relax and enjoy this Christmas vibe," he continued.
Smith isn't the only one who anticipated this day. Candice Barkely has also aged out of the foster care system. She said she was excited to attend this year's party because she has a plan to inspire others.
"I used to be a part of [this]," Barkely said.
"You don't stop being a part of it just because you age out... I want to be an inspiration to a lot of kids out there," she continued.
Each year in Wisconsin, there are as many as 450 foster kids who turn 18 years old without ever being adopted. Some might argue these young people don't have a family in the most traditional sense of the word, but Barkely said that doesn't mean they don't feel loved.
"It's truly a blessing to be a part of something like this," Barkely said.
"Especially if you're around people that actually love and care for you... that's a really good feeling because [there are] so many kids out there that don't have that," she continued.
According to a 2012 U.S Department of Health and Human Services report, nearly 40% of teens who turn 18 without ever having been adopted becomes homeless. This statistic plays a large role in why Lad Lake continues to support young adults who have aged out of the foster care program through its "Home" for the Holidays celebration and other annual events.
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