NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — There are several thousand children in Virginia’s foster care system.
An Old Dominion University student is doing his part to make a difference in some of their lives.
Melvin Roy just wrapped up his freshman year at ODU and he’s already left his mark on campus.
He started a new student organization with the goal of giving back to teens currently in foster care. It’s a cause that’s near to his heart because he used to be in foster care himself.
March 26, 2015 is a date that Melvin Roy said will stay with him forever.
“I’ll never forget when the lady came to my school and told me that they decided to place me and my sisters in the system,” Roy said. “She had said it to me but that was the first time where I didn’t really hear what she said, I had to have her repeat it.”
Roy entered foster care after experiencing abuse and neglect at home. He was 14 years old, a freshman in high school.
“It was very difficult, especially since they picked us up from school,” Roy said. “We weren’t able to go home and get our stuff so we had to start a new life the next day.”
The Virginia Department of Social Services says there are nearly 5,000 children in foster care.
The numbers vary across Virginia Beach, Norfolk, and Chesapeake, but the average time spent in foster care in these cities ranges from one to three years.
Roy lived in four different homes during his high school career. Though he was able to stay at the same school, it wasn’t easy.
“Academically it definitely hit me hard, trying to find that balance,” Roy said. “Balancing my school life and my personal life was very difficult so my GPA did suffer because of that.”
According to the U.S. Department of Education, national research shows children in foster care are at high-risk of dropping out of school. They’re also unlikely to attend or graduate from college.
However Roy beat of those odds. He graduated high school in 2018 and he just finished his first year at ODU. Roy credits a former job at Chick-Fil- A and a strong support system for putting him on the path to success.
He wanted to pay it forward so he decided to start Foster U. It’s one of the newest student organizations on the ODU campus.
“I want to help teenagers ages 14-18 in foster care, just help them see that there is life after high school,” Roy said.
Through community service, workshops and mentorships, Roy hopes to inspire kids in foster care to seek higher education. So far, Foster U has about two dozen student members from ODU.
He’s working to recruit foster teens who could use some guidance and encouragement.
“I’m working with the independent living coordinator and Department of Human Services and Tidewater Friends of Foster Care to branch out in the community and get those youth ages 14-18,” Roy said. “I want to make it into something great where I can help other people who went through the same thing I went through.”
Roy hopes Foster U will eventually expand to other college campuses – and while he hopes to inspire foster children, he hopes potential foster parents are inspired as well.
“It’s all about being able to make that change to your life for the betterment of someone else,” he said. “When you die, people will not remember the car your drove or the house you lived in. They remember whose life did you touch and what difference did you make.
May is recognized as National Foster Care month but the need for foster parents is year round. 10 On Your Side sat down with a Virginia Beach woman who has opened up her home to children in need.
She and her husband are currently fostering two babies along with parenting two kids of their own.
Ashley Baker said she wasn’t sure what to expect when she and her husband started exploring the idea of becoming foster parents.
“That was a huge turning point for me when I really reached out of my comfort zone and saw what these children are experiencing,” Baker said.
After several classes, background checks, a home assessment, and a lot of prayer, the Bakers took a leap of faith. In 2013, they took in their first foster child — a newborn.
“Walking into the hospital and walking out with someone else’s child was absolutely heartbreaking, especially as a mother,” Baker said.
The Virginia Beach Department of Human Services said their main priority is to reunify the children with their family if and when the situation is safe enough to do so. Until then, they rely on foster families.
There are about 200 children in Virginia Beach foster care but only about 50 to 55 foster-approved homes.
In Norfolk, there are 225 kids in foster care and 70 foster homes.
In Chesapeake. there are 70 kids in foster care and 53 foster homes.
“I think when you see the need, it’s something you can’t unsee,” Baker said.
The Baker’s first foster child was able to return to family. Not long after, they took in another child, who the couple eventually adopted.
Their house is now busier than ever. They’re currently caring for two babies along with their own two children.
Baker says as with anything, being a foster parent can have its challenges.
“Being a parent is hard but being a parent to a child who’s experienced trauma is even harder,” Baker said.” It adds another level of difficulty to it.”
Still, as any parent will tell you, the ups and the downs are all worth it.
VBDHS said there are some common misconceptions when it comes to foster care.
“I kind of thought you sign up and a random child just shows up,” Baker said.
But as Baker learned, that’s not the case.
“You have the choice to say no sometimes. They don’t push a child on you if you’re not ready for that,” she said.
VBDHS said they’re very particular when placing a child with a family because they want to make sure it’s a good fit.
For those considering becoming a foster parent, you might wonder – what if you already have children in your home? Baker said foster care has changed her kids for the better, too.
“I think it’s just strengthened their empathy towards others,” she said. “Being a foster parent is so rewarding and the blessings and rewards and just the honor of being a part of the system just totally outweighs any hardships.”
If you’d like to learn more about becoming a foster parent, please contact:
Virginia Beach: Ryan Jones, 757-385-3272 or Rayshawn Satchell, 757-385-3287
Norfolk: Karen Opie, 757-664-7751
Chesapeake: Kim Baskerville or Felicia LaGarde, 757-382-2000
Information for other cities in Virginia can be found at this link.