Bama Works Grant to Help Foster Children Establish Support System

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Shawn Winfrey Shawn Winfrey

Children in Charlottesville who don't have their biological parents to take care of them now have the chance to get connected. New money is coming in from Dave Matthews’ Bama Works Fund to help foster children meet other relatives and even friends of their family.

Nearly 600 children age out of the foster care system every year in Virginia, and all they know is foster care. NBC29 sat down with a young man who grew up in foster care in Charlottesville and is a living testament to how influential grants - like the one from Bama Works - are to a child's future.

Shawn Winfrey grew up moving from group home to group home. He never knew his real family.

"The system was my guardian from the time I was like 12 all the way until about 23. So yeah there was no option for kinship care for me at the time,” said Winfrey.

He struggled with feeling disconnected from relatives he knew were out there somewhere.

"I was mad at the world at 12 and 13. I didn't understand what I was going through so I blamed everyone else around me,” said Winfrey.

Social Services knows Winfrey’s situation in foster care was not ideal, and now it is focusing more on establishing family connections for youth.

"We think it’s very important to utilize this service in this way so that children aging out of foster care are aging out to a support network,” said Jenny Jones of Charlottesville's Department of Social Services.

Winfrey feels the $5,000 from Bama Works couldn't be used for a better purpose.

"I think that is critical because that is your natural support system. When you're born, you're born to a mom and a dad. Everybody has a mom and a dad. That natural support system can't be replaced,” said Winfrey.

Biological family connections weren't available to him growing up, but he is still thankful for what his experience taught him.

"What I’m really thankful for is learning and understanding that people are here to help me and not here to break me down and try to see me fail,” said Winfrey.

Now a college graduate and high school football coach, Winfrey hopes he can be an inspiration to those who are still in the system.

"We go through so much more as foster kids in terms of family relationships, social bonding, things like that, that you know the average kid has such an advantage over us. So we have to push harder, we have to fight harder,” said Winfrey.

The grant will help with this philosophical shift. It's called the Family Finding Model, and it allows each child to reach out to at least 40 relatives or friends to establish a support system.

The Charlottesville Area Community Foundation awarded the grant to social services earlier this spring.

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