BY KRISTI FISH MIRROR REPORTER — For three years, Love and Luggage has been providing resources and necessary items for young adults who are aging out of Lucas County Children Services.
Across the country, thousands of teenagers are aging out of the foster care system each year, and support systems and resources are necessary in every state to help the young adults achieve their goals, said Love and Luggage cofounder Sarah Otis.
Sarah and her husband Jim adopted their daughter Amanda more than 20 years ago. Amanda came to their home with her belongings in two trash bags. A few years ago, the idea behind Love and Luggage came about and was later created as a program of Adopt America Network.
Connecting with Lucas County Children Services and other organizations has allowed the program, based in Maumee, to provide Lucas County teens with luggage and many other items they may need while they transition into adulthood.
“My husband, my daughter and I founded Love and Luggage. Love and Luggage is unconditional love and durable luggage for youth who are emancipating or aging out of the foster care system,” Sarah explained.
On June 8, those who were emancipating from the system and graduating from high school were celebrated by Love and Luggage volunteers, county workers, friends and family during a small ceremony at First Pres Maumee, which included refreshments, a shop through the pantry and professional headshots for their resumes.
Before receiving their luggage and pantry items, the attendees also heard from Sarah, her daughter Amanda Burzynski and a Love and Luggage alumna, Skyleigh Cook.
Burzynski explained Love and Luggage is meant to help the graduates reach the goals they have for themselves and convey that those goals are attainable.
“Part of the reason I am thankful for Love and Luggage is to see, after the year after the new class comes in, the growth,” she said. “That is amazing.”
Cook answered several questions about her experience with the organization, explaining to the new high school graduates how to use the resources available to them.
“I have been here since the first year of Love and Luggage,” Cook told the attendees. “They help tremendously. If you need any support, financially, mentally, physically, they will help you. They are here to help.”
Cook encouraged the graduates to reach out if they need assistance or support, adding that the support she has received is the most important part of Love and Luggage.
“Everyone is always here for you,” she reminded the young adults.
After hearing from the speakers, the attendees of honor also had the opportunity to talk about themselves, including telling what high school they graduated from and what plans they have post-graduation.
Each of the young adults filled their luggage with toiletries, paper products, cleaning supplies, linens, kitchen utensils, batteries, pillows, hangers, tool kits, pots and pans, first aid kits and other items they might need when furnishing their own spaces and transitioning into adulthood.
“We’re just a couple of old volunteer people who feel strongly about where you’re headed in your life path. We want you to be supported and enjoy today and celebrate and also to come back. You are more than welcome to come back voluntarily every time we have a gathering, a meal, an event,” Sarah reminded the young adults.
Community dinners and other events are held throughout the year for the graduates to participate in and meet with professionals in many fields who can connect them with additional resources.
“The idea is, when you come back for the dinners, we want to be there through your travels,” Sarah said.
After the dinners, the young adults are invited to shop the pantry at First Pres Maumee, Sarah said.
From the pantry, they can collect items they might need, like toiletries, cleaning supplies and other shelf-stable items. Additionally, gift cards are often handed out to help with the cost of grocery items.
“You take whatever detergent, deodorant, items you need, because we collect that for you to have,” Sarah reminded the emancipating youths.
Donations to the pantry are stored at First Pres in Maumee, and members of the community can provide much-needed items for the young adults.
“We raise all the money and goods privately from people who love you and want to be a part of the community,” Sarah added.
For more information on Love and Luggage, visit loveandluggage.org, where there are links to donate and volunteer.