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'I had a suitcase and a dream' | Former foster child creates nonprofit to help other kids in the system

Currently, there are 12,000 children in the state’s foster care system and not nearly enough foster homes – 80% of these kids are older, ranging from ages 6 to 18.

ATLANTA — May is Foster Care Awareness Month. Brittney Sherrell is using her experience to help a growing number of foster children in Georgia.

Currently, there are 12,000 children in the state’s foster care system and not nearly enough foster homes – 80% of these kids are older, ranging from ages 6 to 18.

Sherrell told 11Alive that they need more support, which sometimes starts with something small, like a suitcase.

“When I got to Atlanta, I had a suitcase and a dream,” she explained. “I’m just dragging a bag with dreams, which is living in Georgia or having a family of my own."

Sherrell was 10 when life came crashing down.

Her mom battled addiction and police arrested her for shoplifting. As a result, the kids were split up into different foster homes. Sherrell said she wound up carrying around a garbage bag – with the few things she owned.

After years of moving from house to house, abuse and being separated from all of her siblings – Sherrell finally reached a foster home where she felt supported.

"You get tired of struggling and hurting and something in you says 'Ok we are going to do this,'" she added.

However, Sherrell explained there isn’t enough support when kids age out of the system. They are often left to fend for themselves without the skills or resources they need. 

Nationally, nearly half of kids (46%), who age out of the system are unemployed and some are homeless. 

Sherrell said the ending to this part of her story is rare. She went to college, got a job and wrote about her experience.

"This book is a dream. I said I was going to do it and I did it," she said. 

Sherrell's vision board is full of new goals, to help other foster kids – a reason for the piles of bags in her garage. She's building a nonprofit called, "Suitcases and a Dream."

Her new home, with her new husband, is now a place of possibilities.

“My dreams are still happening every day, they are unfolding before my eyes," Sherrell said. "That’s the message. You can dream.”

She added she has big plans to make a difference, explaining the biggest challenge to tackle is when kids age out and lose what little support they had. It's then, that they have to try to make it on their own.

The state hopes a new $20 million tax credit will help. It rewards taxpayers and corporations who donate each year to groups supporting foster care.

   

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