Initially, Aubrie Simpson-Gotham’s career centered around teaching. But after spending a few years working with students in high poverty areas, she began to discern a lack in social services for these students. Over the years, she saw the number of students in foster care trend upwards, largely due to the opioid crisis. After scouring what resources were currently available to foster families in St. Johns County, Aubrie soon realized that her passion for helping underserved communities outweighed available opportunities to get involved. The answer was obvious to her – she would have to start her own organization. And this past February, Aubrie formed Fostering Connections St. Johns.
The immediate goal of the nonprofit group is to provide care packages for children newly-placed in foster care. Realizing that most kids arrive in a new foster placement with only the clothes on their backs and not much more, Fostering Connections provides age-appropriate care packages to ease the transition. The packages include basics like toothbrushes and other toiletries for the necessities, but throws in stuffed animals, coloring books and other comfort items to make the kids feel special and, hopefully, loved.
Aubrie has big plans for Fostering Connections, but for now, she is focused on working with the Family Integrity Program in St. Johns County to distribute care packages, honor foster parents with gift cards, and build a volunteer base for future events. A big moment will come in August when Fostering Connections hosts an outreach event for foster families and students to help them gear up for school, providing them with items to help them have a successful year.
While the current focus is continuing to work on delivering care packages, Aubrie envisions a big future for her organization. One of her goals is to open a transitional housing program for kids who have aged out of foster care, typically between the ages of 18-25. There are no support services for this age group anymore, and this is one of the most vulnerable times in a foster kid’s life.
Statistics show that without continued support and intervention, many foster kids end up homeless, involved in criminal activities, and susceptible to drug addiction, human trafficking, and at-risk pregnancies. This is where Aubrie really hopes to make a difference.
When I asked her why she focused on the fostering community, Aubrie mentioned a friend from college. Her friend became a foster kid at age 8. The friend shared the difficulties of being in foster care and how often she was without help growing up. That made a strong impression on Aubrie, but she never knew what to do to make a change. So she took matters into her own hands and made the connection on her own.