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(The following was adapted from an article in The Chronicle of Social Change.)

Life in foster care can be extremely challenging! Many of the day-to-day activities that so many children take for granted are often out of reach for children in foster care. Whether those activities are sports, music, dance, art or other extracurricular clubs, foster children face many barriers that make these enriching experiences inaccessible.

Inspiring Together’s mission is to help change that. We believe that extracurricular activities are fundamental to a child’s growth because they help develop different skills and abilities, foster self-esteem, and promote overall well-being. And so we strive to provide extracurricular opportunities for these kids.

Our belief is backed by evidence presented in a 2019 report by the California-based Youth Law Center, which reviewed the research on the benefits of extracurricular participation and its potential to help at-risk youth.

According to the report, children’s participation in sports and clubs can build soft skills like leadership and improve school performance. In addition, taking part in these programs can help young people expand their social networks and build relationships with supportive adults, which is correlated with improved outcomes.

Participating in sports and other activities that meet after school has also been shown to reduce criminal activity, which is particularly important for foster youth, given their increased odds of involvement in the justice system.

And perhaps most importantly, the report also suggests that these activities can help counteract the negative impact of childhood trauma, which foster kids experience high rates of.

“When a child is exposed to developmentally healthy experiences, the brain can actually ‘rewire’ itself to counteract the damage caused by traumatic experiences and to develop resilience – the ability to confront, adapt to, and overcome challenging circumstances,” the report says.

Laurice Venture, a 23-year-old former foster youth in Los Angeles, can attest to the value of extracurricular experiences.

Her activities were key to her development, she said, because they helped expand her horizons and instill self-discipline. But they also helped her work through the anger she struggled with as a foster youth and, ultimately, gave her faith in her own potential.