In Her Own Words: Unwanted's Erika Righter

February 2012

What can you say about having a full-page picture of yourself with the words “Unwanted” above your head, in one of the most well-known magazines in Colorado? It was a wonderful experience. People are still talking about the, so clearly it struck a nerve.

I was hoping it would lead to more opportunities with organizers in the community, to work on how we can improve the lives of the children placed in foster care each year in Colorado. I was hoping to get tons of calls from people wanting to become foster parents. That did not happen. What did happen was that people asked a lot of questions, and started the conversation. I think that there is still a lot of misinformation out there about foster care in general, and there is a push lately, to clear up some of the confusion.

I am excited to see that legislation is starting to move in the direction of protecting the rights of children placed in foster care. There is more to assist them with college educations, protecting them from identity theft, and doing more thorough searches for relatives who might take them in. There is a movement that is growing that seeks to do a better job when children are first removed from their parents, to find other adults in their lives who might be able to be a placement option. The data on children who age out of the foster care system without a single permanent adult in their life is staggering.

How many people turn 18 and suddenly know what it means to be an “adult?” Can you imagine going it alone in a world without education, support, job skills, or friends? Most 18 year olds, as well as many 25 year olds now, still live at home with their parents, and rely on them for emotional and financial support. Not kids from the system. They have been raised by institutions, or people who were only supposed to be there for them temporarily. Many foster parents will tell you that when their kids age out of the system, they often show right back up on their doorsteps, needing guidance. Is it the responsibility of the foster parents, to provide the missing pieces of what the State neglected to provide?

My life since being a foster parent has changed tremendously. I got married in September to the wonderful man that I was dating while being a foster parent. I ended up working for the same agency that I was a foster parent for, and got to see a lot of successes with our foster children and families. I also worked with families who adopted children out of the foster care system. Although I was happy to see how many families were willing to make commitments to some very challenging children, I was disappointed by how few families were looking to adopt older children out of foster care.

As for our three former foster children, they are doing great! Daniela* is enrolled in a nursing program, pursuing her RN. Gabriel* and Josefina* are growing like weeds and are doing very well in their daycare. I talk to Daniela often, and continue to do my best to provide support and be her cheerleader. The experience of being foster parents continues to impact our lives in positive ways, and we hope to foster more children in the future.

In the last month, my husband was laid off from his job without any warning, and then 3 weeks later, I found out that my agency, Adoption Alliance was closing its doors after over 20 years of being in business. I have been dabbling in sewing baby bibs, blankets, kids’ aprons, and other accessories for the last couple of years. Because of the demands of my old job, I wasn’t able to concentrate fully on the sewing. Suddenly, I found myself with no job, no income, and I did not really want to work under someone else’s vision. I had talked about opening a shop off and on for years, and decided that it was now or never. I couldn’t stand the idea of having a store, just for the sake of having a store, though. It needed to be a hub of activism and enthusiasm.

I started reaching out to local artists to see if they would be willing to take a cut out of their profits, in order to raise awareness of a charity. Over and over, people said yes. And so, just one month after losing my job, I am opening Hope Tank, a “philanthropic boutique!” We have wonderful things for people to buy for themselves, or a friend, but with a purpose. No matter how bad the economy is, people will continue to have babies, buy dogs, and have parties, and live their lives. So why not buy things for those babies, dogs, friends, and yourself at a place where your purchase not only supports an artist, but also makes an impact on a charity?! I want people to have fun in the shop, be inspired, give the gift of hope to someone, and then pass on that energy.

The most exciting thing about this venture is that the possibilities are endless with what will come next. We will have movie nights for social documentaries, host private parties for nonprofits and businesses that want to get involved, and partner with organizations for classes. So, in closing, that article was the first step for me to give a voice to something that people just don’t want to talk about, and this store is the next step in creating action steps for those who heard me.

Read more about Hope Tank here.

(*Names have been changed)