According to Foster Club, more than 400,000 kids live in America’s foster care system, and 39% of these children are under the age of five years old. Nearly half of the kids (46%) in the system live with non-relative foster parents, holding no guarantee of a permanent home.
While some children find long-lasting caregivers, there are many kids that age-out of the system at 18 without stable support. According to the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, these young adults face homelessness, pregnancy and trouble obtaining a job.
There are organizations aimed at helping these youth achieve success during and after their foster care years. One of these organizations operates under the first-hand experience of its two founders, casting director Sheila Jaffe, and musician Darryl “DMC” McDaniels.
The pair founded The Felix Organization in 2006 to assist children in the foster care system who do not have a permanent place to call home. The nonprofit organization’s mission is to “provide inspiring opportunities and new experiences to enrich the lives of children who are growing in the foster care system,” Jaffe said in an exclusive interview with Good Celebrity.
Jaffe met McDaniels in 2006 and the pair reflected on their experience in the foster care system. They are both adoptees who found forever homes with loving families and attribute their success to their solid roots.
“Darryl and I realize the success we’ve had in our lives is because we had loving families,” Jaffe said. “It was the luck of the draw for us that we got adopted. The foster children we support don’t always have that opportunity, and we want to give them every possible chance for a better life and a brighter future.”
The Felix Organization hosts many events throughout the year created specifically for children in the foster care system. These events provide kids with opportunities to meet peers, develop leadership skills and obtain confidence to become successful individuals.
Camp Felix Gives Foster Children Hope During Tough Times
Its largest annual event is Camp Felix. It’s held for four weeks in the summer, one-hour north of New York City. The camp gives 150 foster children, ages 8 through 15, the opportunity to leave their worries in the big city and enjoy the jubilations of being a kid in the beautiful outdoors.
“When Darryl and I first started thinking about Felix, we wanted to start a city where all the foster children could go and be loved and supported. We spoke to our accountant and luckily he convinced us to start a little bit smaller! So we decided instead of a city, we’d start a summer camp,” Jaffe explained.
As a result of the stressful living conditions associated with the foster system, children tend to experience high rates of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Depression and other behavioral issues. The camp’s staff consists of social workers and medical professionals that assist campers with their unique needs.
“There are so many benefits but primarily love, family and self-confidence. Felix has served more than 1,500 youth since we started ten years ago,” Jaffe said. “Our children have gone on to college, become camp counselors, and defied the statistics to follow their unique goals and dreams.”
Camp Felix also gives community members a chance to volunteer and be part of the enrichment process.
“Volunteering at Camp Felix was one of the most important things I have ever done, both in terms of how it impacted me, but also the impact I was able to have on others. I grew so much from the experience and was able to be a mentor and role model in a way that I think is unique to working with the type of children and in the environment that Felix fosters. I will never forget my summer at Camp Felix,” Zachary, a camp volunteer, said.
Yanallis, a Camp Felix camper, shared a testimonial describing how much the summer meant to her. She wrote, “Words cannot describe how much of an impact camps been to my life. This impact had been made on my whole family. It is such an AWESOME privilege, just to have had the opportunity to be in this type of program. If I could, I would spend the rest of my life there. Every summer I spend outside of camp, I think about it.”
This experience gives children hope during their most vital and influential years of life.
Jaffe reflected on one camper, Marlin, who achieved great success thanks to his experience at the camp.
“From camper to volunteer to second-year camp counselor, Marlin has literally grown before our eyes. He’s now finishing his senior year at college and spent a week in Mexico last year building a school and running sports activities with the local children. Marlin is taking a path that we hope all of our Felix youth will take, applying what he learns at camp to everyday life and giving back to those in need,” she said.
Beyond Camp Helps Children who Age-Out of the Foster System
The Felix Organization doesn’t stop there. It also helps children aging out of the foster care system have a successful experience when they become legal adults.
Jaffe said that they started the Beyond Camp program in 2012 to provide these young adults with resources to follow their dreams.
“Through this program, we grant funding to NYC youth in foster care for extracurricular activities throughout the year,” she said. “In recent years, we distributed funds for dance lessons, gymnastics, college textbooks, sports leagues, photography equipment and more. In the past two years, Felix has distributed over $20,000 to 37 youth through Beyond Camp.”
Gabi Cassandra, a social worker with the organization, spoke about the impact of the Beyond Camp grants and said that it’s a vital resource to provide continuous support throughout the year.
“At Camp Felix, campers develop their self-esteem in specific areas and overall confidence by participating in the arts, sports and by being encouraged to take chances in front of their peers (dancing, performing, reading poetry). It is inspirational to watch this process, and it is due to the dedication of all the instructors,” she said.
“Beyond Camp has allowed our students to participate in weekend dance and football classes, all increasing their self-esteem. The short-term effects are priceless. Watching them be excited about the classes and feel committed to what they are engaging in. The longer term effects are increased participation and engagement in school and many other social-emotional benefits.”
“To Give a Kid a Chance, All You Gotta Do is Dance!”
Dance This Way, the organization’s anchor fundraiser, is approaching in May and according to Jaffe, the third-annual event could be the best one to date.
Held in the Big Apple, the city’s hottest DJs, MCs and entertainers come together to support the Felix Organization by participating in the thrilling dance marathon. Felix supporters create teams and raise funds for the foster children and their programs while dancing through the decades, Jaffe said.
The annual event takes place on May 15th at Stage 48 in Manhattan. Attendees will also participate in the organization’s 10-year anniversary celebrations. If you’re interested in attending, you can sign up here.
The Felix Organization Stays Busy All Year
In addition to Camp Felix, Beyond Camp and Dance This Way, the Felix Organization hosts many events throughout the year including:
- Thanksgiving dinner for 100 children in the foster care system at Hill Country BBQ restaurant
- 100 foster children attend the Radio City Christmas Spectacular
- Open house and barbecue at Camp Felix in the summer
- Felix Birthday Party in May during Foster Care Awareness Month
- Laugh This Way, which is a comedy night in LA that sends kids to Camp Felix
Jaffe said there are also other opportunities for foster children to attend shows, sporting, and cultural events throughout the year, plus events in NYC and LA in honor of foster care awareness.
“I feel we are on the right track of how to make changes in the world. I couldn’t be prouder of Felix,” she said.
The Felix Organization Looks Forward to the New Year
“In 2016, Felix aims to expand our programming by offering an additional week of Camp Felix with our partners in Los Angeles to serve LA based foster youth,” Jaffe explained.
“We plan to send 150-200 young people to Camp Felix in New York, and we aim to serve hundreds more youth via Felix Friendship Circle, which sends kids to Broadway shows and other cultural events.”
It also plans to expand its Secret Santa holiday gift card drive around the holidays to ensure older kids in the foster system receive gifts.
How Can We Help The Felix Organization?
Jaffe said the best way to help is through donations. The organization relies 100% on private donations to operate its camp and grant programs. To donate, visit the organization’s website or send a check to:
The Felix Organization
43 Oyster Bay Road
Locust Valley, NY 11560