James & Mr. Willis

foster care: safe, supportive homes for youth in care

James* had a history of verbal and physical aggression, stemming from years of childhood trauma.

He lived most of his life with his maternal grandmother, who formally adopted him in 2015. She cared for and provided him with the support he needed to work through his trauma and continue with school.

But shortly after his adoption, his grandmother suddenly passed away. Without her love and guidance, he felt lost.

James briefly lived with his adoptive sisters. But when one of them became physically abusive, he started living on the streets, missing school and getting in trouble with law enforcement.

By the time his Kids Above All case manager Lola identified Mr. Willis as a foster parent for James, he was on probation.     

As James settled into Mr. Willis’ home, they started talking about James’ future and his goals—something he had never done before.

James wanted to have a place of his own and a steady job.

They agreed that for his goals to become a reality, James needed to go back to school and get his high school diploma.

To help, Lola and Mr. Willis worked with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services to find a daily program to improve his reading.

And with Mr. Willis’ encouragement and having the stability he needed, James worked hard to make up for the time he missed in class.

This past spring, James graduated from high school. Soon after, he started a part-time job rehabbing houses, saving money for his own home.

One of his favorite things to do is cook, a skill Mr. Willis taught him that will serve him well when he’s living independently.

James and Mr. Willis have grown close—to the point where he calls Mr. Willis, “Pops.” He sees Mr. Willis as both a mentor and role model for the man he wants to be when he’s older.  

“I look up to Mr. Willis, and since living with him, I feel as good about my life as I ever have.”

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