Camellia Network

The Camellia Network is an organization that exists to support youth who are aging out of the foster system.

It’s a new organization, just passing its first year, and yesterday they launched their revamped web platform.  Camellia is a new kind of support organization — rather than provide services directly, their approach is to build a network of support and resources around the individuals who will be leaving the foster system.

It’s an incredibly serious and challenging situation: the Foster system in the US provides support for some of the least resourced young people in the country — and when they leave the system (at age 18 in most states), they essentially lose whatever support system they’ve had.  Imagine heading into the world on your 18th birthday with no parents, no resources and no support network.  It’s really quite hard to imagine, and understandably, the results are not good (from the Camellia website):

Camellia’s approach is to build a support network that youth leaving the foster system can tap into.  To help give them access to people, opportunities, financial resources, and unknown other sorts of support — in a way that isn’t possible to do using existing institutional infrastructure, and ideally, in a way that scales.

I think it’s a smart approach, one that aims to take advantage of the network dynamics we’re seeing in other sectors.  So I really hope they’re able to make it work.

Here are things you can do, today, which are all quite easy and will be meaningful:

  • Head over to Camellia and meet the youth that are already in the network.  Each person has a profile with some information about who they are, how they see the world, and what they’re hoping to achieve.  Simply posting a message of encouragement on someone’s public profile is a meaningful act. And meeting these people face-to-face and hearing even small details about their perspective is really powerful.
  • Buy something from one of the gift registries — each person in the network has a small gift registry of things they need to get started.  It’s really easy to add a few to your cart and help out that way.  You don’t have to spend a lot of money to help out this way.
  • Add yourself to the network of supporters.  This is effectively raising your hand to say “I’m here and I’m willing to help if I can”.  You’ll get a public profile which says a little bit about you, and gives youth in the system a way to contact you.  Here’s mine.
  • Register your organization as an opportunity partner.  Opportunity partner organizations and companies offer special opportunities to youth in the network — for instance: informational interviews, discounts on consumer products, donations of goods or services, etc.  This is just getting going, so there is an opportunity to be creative here.

Lastly, it’s interesting to note that everything on the site happens online, and in public.  This is important, and one of the ways the network is working to head off the potential for predatory or illicit interactions. I know they’ve spent a lot of time considering the challenges and risks of operating a service like this, and from an outsider’s point of view (and as someone who studies how web platforms work), it’s really interesting to watch how they’re handling this, and how it evolves over time.

I’ve been friends with the folks behind Camellia for some time, and my wife is working with them this year as part of her doctoral work.  I’ll be helping however I can as they get going. So please spread the ord, take a few small steps to engage with the network, and please send along any feedback or ideas here.

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