They adopted him when he was 16. 8 years later, he's in prison — and they're waiting, as parents do.
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When Cory was 5 years old, he was removed from his home by the state and placed into foster care. For the next 11 years, he bounced between homes, ultimately landing in a facility at age 15.

By then, the odds were beginning to dwindle that he would be adopted, as older children in the foster care system typically have a harder time finding their "forever family." Unfortunately, this part of Cory's story isn't all that rare.


Cory at almost 16, the first time he met the Crouch family. All photos courtesy of Tanja Crouch.

When it comes to U.S. foster care, many of the statistics are troubling.

Over 400,000 children were in foster care in 2013. And in the same year, 23,000 children “aged out" of the system.

That means they hit an age, usually 18, where they're simply “too old" to remain in foster care. They are turned out into the world on their own with no safety net — no family to come home to when life throws up an inevitable roadblock, nobody to call when their bank account balance dips below zero.

Teens who age out of the system face a more difficult road in life than average folks who have families. They are less likely to graduate from high school or get a GED, and they are far less likely to graduate from college. Additionally, they are more likely to become pregnant, homeless, or end up in jail.

Cory, however, didn't age out.

Cory was almost 16 when he met the people who would become his parents.

When I talked to Tanja and Kevin Crouch, they had recently celebrated their 36th anniversary. Tanja shared with me the memories of their life pre-Cory. Tanja, a recording studio manager, and Kevin, a college professor in the fashion department who has worked as a costumer designer for Disney, Vogue, and other companies, had assumed they would have biological children together. When they discovered they wouldn't be able to, they realized that parenting would have to look a little different than they envisioned.

But Tanja and her siblings were adopted, so she was no stranger to family ties in the absence of biology. The Crouches were open to adoption.

After learning about the need for foster and adoptive families for children in the U.S., Tanja and Kevin decided it was right for them. They attended months of training sessions and went through certification, and then the Crouches were ready to open their home.

Kevin, Tanja, and Cory Crouch.

In 2007, they opened it to Cory. “The first time we met Cory, I knew he was our son. I just felt it. … I felt a connection to him," Tanja told me. And the feeling was mutual. Although his caseworker presented him with the files of three families to review, after he met the Crouches, Cory said he didn't care to meet the others. He also felt the connection.

Following a few more meetings and a trial weekend, the three agreed that Cory should move in with Tanja and Kevin, one week before his 16th birthday and two short years before he would have aged out of the system.

That day, the Crouches became a family of three.

Kevin and Cory rappelling.

But for kids who have lived a large part of their childhoods in foster care, their troubles don't simply stop on a dime just because they've found a permanent home. Rough roads were still ahead.

Tanja and Kevin were committed to Cory from the beginning, like most parents.

And like all parents, they made some mistakes. “We probably spoiled Cory, giving him too much, too soon," Tanja said. “But we had waited so long for a child that we just wanted him to have every opportunity."

Cory later told them about his feelings, common among many foster children who find themselves in loving families after years of having the opposite. It was difficult for Cory “to suddenly have a family and people who cared if he did his homework and showed up for school and was where he was supposed to be," Tanja said.

“He never had anyone care or check up before. He also never had a cellphone or a computer or other things. The first week we had him, we took him shopping for new clothes and let him pick out his bedding and other things for his room. It became a little overwhelming to have choices and new things. This he shared with us more recently. He did not appreciate and take care of those things, probably because he was used to having to leave everything behind and just move with his clothes and a few other personal items."

The Crouches did what parents do when their kids have significant unmet needs: They find a way to meet them.

“Cory was nearly two years behind in school because no one had ever cared if he was in school and if he was passing classes," Tanja said. It was a lot for him to catch up on.

Additionally, they learned that Cory was heavily medicated for misdiagnosed ADHD. “There was a lot of counseling, tutors, and doctors' visits — things we never imagined."

At the same time, the couple also had to adjust to a big life change.

“Getting used to a third person who was an active teen ... lots of his friends coming and going — it was a big adjustment for us," Tanja explained. “We had been married for more than 20 years with no children, just the two of us. ... We were not prepared for all the adjustments. However, the sacrifices were worth it, to finally have a son."

Unfortunately, the impact of nearly 11 years in the foster care system, coupled with his other challenges, led Cory to make some poor decisions.

Cory ran into legal trouble when he was caught with pot, and his situation was further complicated when he failed to show for court dates. As a result, he's now serving time in prison.

His situation, it should be noted, is one that thousands of other teens — not just adopted teens — find themselves in every day, regardless of their backgrounds. Poor decision-making is often a rite of passage to adulthood. But unlike individuals who age out of the foster care system, Cory had a family before he turned 18 — and he has a family waiting for him when he's released. Tanja calls and writes to Cory weekly, sharing Scripture lessons and providing words of hope.

Cory has told Tanja many times that her letters are a source of encouragement. “I always start my letters by mentioning something we talked about on the phone and how proud I am of him. I end by telling him I love him," Tanja said.

She believes that has further solidified their relationship. “I know he never heard things like that when he grew up. My constantly reminding him he is my son and I am proud of the changes he is trying to make helps him to further believe in himself."

The Crouches are optimistic that Cory will be released this fall — and when he is, they'll be there for him. “I believe Cory is the son we were supposed to have. I believe that God found a way to finally help us to find one another," Tanja said.

Despite the challenges, Tanja and Kevin aren't going anywhere.

“This is not the plan I had for being a parent and certainly not the plan I had for Cory. But, I love him and I want this to be a blip on the radar." Her hope for him sounds like that of any parent who wants the best for their child. Their love is a great reminder that parenting comes in all shapes and sizes and families are created in many ways.

A mother's love knows no bounds.

Tanja shared a memory with me that sums up their journey so well:

“One time when Cory was kicked out of school for a week, he ran away. I went looking for him and finally found him with a group of 'troubled teen' friends. I told him to get in the car because we were going home. He was my son and I would always come and find him no matter what he did and where he went.

That is why, although he is sitting in prison, I have not given up on him. He is my son and I will always go and find him and bring him home because I love him. He is our son forever."

That is what a "forever family" looks like.

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

When "bobcat" trended on Twitter this week, no one anticipated the unreal series of events they were about to witness. The bizarre bobcat encounter was captured on a security cam video and...well...you just have to see it. (Read the following description if you want to be prepared, or skip down to the video if you want to be surprised. I promise, it's a wild ride either way.)

In a North Carolina neighborhood that looks like a present-day Pleasantville, a man carries a cup of coffee and a plate of brownies out to his car. "Good mornin!" he calls cheerfully to a neighbor jogging by. As he sets his coffee cup on the hood of the car, he says, "I need to wash my car." Well, shucks. His wife enters the camera frame on the other side of the car.

So far, it's just about the most classic modern Americana scene imaginable. And then...

A horrifying "rrrrawwwww!" Blood-curdling screaming. Running. Panic. The man abandons the brownies, races to his wife's side of the car, then emerges with an animal in his hands. He holds the creature up like Rafiki holding up Simba, then yells in its face, "Oh my god! It's a bobcat! Oh my god!"

Then he hucks the bobcat across the yard with all his might.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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