TAMPA, Fla. — More than 23,000 children age out of foster care every year, and Elizabeth Sutherland was one of those kids.
Now 41 years old, she's an advocate for children in the system, helping to empower and encourage them.
What You Need To Know
- More than 23,000 children age out of foster care every year
- Organizations like Camelot Community Care and the I CAN Foundation work to provide opportunities for children that age out of the foster care system
- The foundation's programs teach kids about finances, housing, education and more
She's doing that by volunteering for organizations like Camelot Community Care, which provides a variety of services for youth.
Sutherland is an advocate for the I CAN Foundation, which focuses on empowering under-recognized youth with confidence, promoting an I-can attitude.
She is also inspiring foster youth by sharing her own story — she wrote a book about growing up and moving between about 12 different foster homes, while hauling the few belongings she had in a trash bag.
"You will experience pain, lots of it. You will find happiness and joy where you least expect it," Sutherland reads from her book, "No Ordinary Liz."
"Right now, you have no safety net. You are owned by the state and just breathe.”
For her, strangers were a safety net and a family.
"Throughout my whole entire life, I have reached out to people I didn’t know to ask for help," she said.
The former foster youth wants to give foster kids hope and give them help.
"Seeing my words here and knowing this is going to impact someone that picks up this book is just tremendous,” said Sutherland.
As a child, she was separated from her brother and sister. They have since been reunited.
The college graduate recently started advocating for the I CAN Foundation.
The founders were inspired by Sutherland's story and invited her to sail around the Caribbean.
She said the trip changed her life.
The foundation allows youth aging out of foster care to get the chance to explore the world while learning basic life skills.
From budgeting, cooking, cleaning and teamwork, to sailing, scuba diving, CPR, meteorology and filmmaking, youth onboard the 100-foot sailboat will take lessons with them long after the 90-day trip.
"Show them the world, show them that there is a bigger opportunity out there, and even though they may not know who they are before they go, by the time that they get back they’re gonna truly know who they are and what their purpose is," said Sutherland.
A boat has even been named in her honor — the maiden voyage takes place in March.
"On a sailboat, all the relationships and the family aspect that is going to happen for these young adults is incredible,” said Sutherland.
Regina Watson, with Camelot Community Care, can help identify some of those kids setting sail.
"Here in Hillsborough County, we see somewhere between 50 and 60 new young people turn 18 in the foster care system that end up coming into one of our programs," said Watson, who is director of independent living at Camelot Community Care.
These programs provide assistance with a variety of needs, including finances, housing and education. It also provides a suitcase full of essentials, so someone else doesn't have to use a trash bag to transport their belongings.
Sutherland said she volunteers at agencies like Camelot because their programs offer hope for kids in need. It's why she said she wants kids to connect with I CAN, so they can set sail for a life-changing exploration.
Not only that, it's why she says she will write more books.