This episode is from Young, Unhoused and Unseen, a podcast production from WHYY News and Temple University’s Logan Center for Urban Investigative Reporting.
Housed in a pair of side-by-side row homes in Philadelphia, Forget Me Knot Children & Youth Services fills a vital gap for young people as a group home and emergency shelter.
Roughly 600 children and young adults live in residential placements across the city of Philadelphia. Some fled abusive households, are unable to secure foster placement, or have been in the system as long as they can remember.
Youth aging out of foster care face a higher risk of homelessness than their peers, according to the National Foster Youth Institute.
For the 30 or so residents that call Forget Me Knot their home, founder Mecca Robinson brings more than 30 years of experience serving children through various social service agencies in Philadelphia and New Jersey. From trips to Wildwood and Broadway to paying out of pocket for haircuts and sneakers, Robinson said staff go above and beyond to provide a loving environment.
“We are that parent that a lot of our children don’t have. They may have lost both parents or they just feel like they don’t have no parents — whether their parents are alive or deceased. We are community-based. We really just want to help,” Robinson said.
With funding hard to come by, Forget Me Knot faces an uphill battle. Love can only mend so much. Moreover, the devastating impact of gun violence and the opioid crisis has deeply traumatized numerous young individuals caught in the system, leaving profound and lasting scars.
Robinson said young people have the solution to their problems. People must first listen. When Robinson walks into spaces with similar organizations to discuss issues facing the residential placement and foster care system, she said she brings her children.
“I come with the children because I can’t tell you all what they need. They can tell you what they need or how it should go. And we as the adults just say, ‘You know what? That makes sense. Let’s try to figure this out.’ This is why so much crime and gun violence is going on in this age population, because nobody’s really listening,” Robinson said.
Alexis Pope, 18, ended up in foster care because both of her parents are deceased. She bounced around to more than 20 foster homes, but eventually found comfort and companionship at Forget Me Knot.
“Group homes and shelters are way more therapeutic because you can talk to other kids. We’re all going through the same thing. We have the end goal to one day have our own family and never to put our kids through this. We all understand how hard our birthdays are. So we all come together and make sure each and everybody’s parties are the best it could possibly be. The first day of school — every little accomplishment we make really big because we all understand,” Pope said.
Pope will be leaving Forget Me Knot soon to a bright future. She recently graduated high school with a 3.9 GPA and will attend college in the spring.
“There is no face to foster care. People always… underplay my situation because of the way I carry myself. They don’t ever think that if I’m having a bad day, life can’t be too hard because I still, the way I dress or my hair is always done. I go through a lot, and then when people find out my story, they be like ‘dang, you carry yourself so good,’ but how am I supposed to carry myself? Am I supposed to be walking around crying all day — with my head down. There’s no face to it,” Pope said.
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