This mom-daughter relationship proves older kids in foster care are worth a second look.
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Ad Council - Adopt US Kids

Ever since Liz was a young girl, she knew she wanted to adopt.

This feeling only solidified as she grew into a determined and passionate woman.

As a teacher of 20-plus years and an avid community service provider, she always felt pulled toward the idea of helping kids in need.


"I knew there were a lot of children in the world that needed good homes," Liz said.

Photo by Liz.

However, when Liz was diagnosed with uterine cancer at 27, she had to put her adoption plans on hold.

On top of that, Liz was in her 30s and caring for her sick mother, so she didn't formally start looking to become an adoptive parent until she was in her early 40s.

By that time, Liz had also been in remission for 13 years, which she counted as a sign to move forward.

But her friends weren't entirely on board with her adoption plan.

Liz wanted to foster to adopt, meaning she'd foster a child in the foster care system with the intention of adopting. Several of her friends thought she was asking for trouble. They couldn't understand why she didn't want to adopt a baby.

But a baby wasn’t Liz’s plan. She’d always had a soft spot for older kids, which is why she didn't hesitate to start the course to become a foster parent.

Once you get through the training, they assign you a social worker and put your information in the system so that kids' social workers can find and match you.

Liz was first scheduled to meet a 13-year-old girl. But when the girl's social worker met with Liz during a preliminary house inspection, she made an unusual recommendation.

She told Liz she thought she had an even better match for her, but the girl in question, Ashley, was 15.

Ashley. Photo via AdoptUsKids. Used with permission.

To the social worker's surprise, Liz was totally on board to meet Ashley instead.

Their first meeting was in January 2012 at an ice cream shop. It was a bit awkward, especially considering the social worker was sitting at the table with them, but the two got along well despite that.

So they set up weekly get-togethers and phone conversations to see if they were the right fit for each other.

"Once we started to talk, we bonded quickly," writes Ashley in an email.

"Ashley and I say it’s like we dated," Liz jokes.

Ashley (left) and Liz (right) eating ice cream.

So, after about six weeks of "dating," Ashley moved into Liz's house and started at the local high school — Westford Academy.

There was an adjustment period, to be sure, especially in terms of her academic life. Ashley's education was full of gaps, partially because her birth mother had taken her out of school for long stretches of time and Westford was a rather prestigious school. But Liz worked with Ashley to help her catch up, and eventually her grades improved.

Ashley also went to therapy regularly to help her cope with all the trauma she experienced as a child.

And slowly but surely, she began to feel more secure in her life with Liz. The two became close.

"I realized that I was comfortable when I started to share things with her about my past," Ashley recalls.

Eventually, Ashley started calling Liz "Mom."

Liz (left) and Ashley (right). Photo via Liz Benstead.

About a year after Ashley moved in with Liz, Liz officially adopted her. Ashley was 16 at the time, making her the oldest child to be adopted in Massachusetts in 2012.

"I was excited," said Ashley in an Ad Council interview. "[I'd] finally have a forever home."

Needless to say, it was a big moment for both mom and daughter. But it was just the beginning of experiences that would bring them closer together.

Liz took Ashley on her first major trip somewhere — they went to Las Vegas. They often get mani-pedis together, and they made a ritual of cooking together, although Liz jokes that Ashley's a way better cook than she is.

Liz also helped her get into volunteering — a passion they both independently shared.

They started a nonprofit called Suitcases of Hope, which provides kids in foster care with their own duffle bags filled with comfort items like sheets, a toothbrush, even a stuffed animal.

"Most kids have to throw all their clothes into garbage bags when they move to a new foster home," Liz says. This personal duffle bag is something that can really feel like theirs.

Aside from Suitcases, between high school and college, Ashley also joined the AmeriCorps City Year program, which connects volunteers with underserved kids who are struggling in school.

The experience helped her get into Central Piedmont Community College, where she achieved a 4.0 GPA. She plans to transfer soon to a four-year college.

According to Liz, Ashley often says the 15-year-old she was wouldn't recognize the young woman she's become — in the best way.

Liz and Ashley traveling in New York City together. Photo via Liz Benstead.

On the flip side, Liz says Ashley's made her more patient, resilient, and understanding. Now that Ashley's in her life, she's smiling and laughing much more often.

That said, Ashley doesn't shy away from telling her story. In fact, she and her mom often speak publicly about adoption, which is how they eventually got connected with AdoptUSKids — a national organization that helps support child welfare systems.

"She is ... determined to say to the world, 'Look, I was in foster care, I've been neglected and abused, and guess what, I made it,'" Liz says.

"I'm no longer doubting myself a lot, I don't have low self-esteem," said Ashley in an Ad Council interview. "And that's all thanks to my mom."

If Ashley could tell prospective adoptive parents anything, it would be to not overlook the foster care system.

"Ignore any misconceptions about foster kids. Every child wants to be loved," Ashley says.

To learn more about adoption and awesome teens like Ashley, check out AdoptUsKids, or contact them via phone, email or chat. And to hear more about Ashley and Liz, check out the video below:

Photo courtesy of Macy's
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Macy's and Girls Inc. believe that all girls deserve to be safe, supported, and valued. However, racial disparities continue to exist for young people when it comes to education levels, employment, and opportunities for growth. Add to that the gender divide, and it's clear to see why it's important for girls of color to have access to mentors who can equip them with the tools needed to navigate gender, economic, and social barriers.

Anissa Rivera is one of those mentors. Rivera is a recent Program Manager at the Long Island affiliate of Girls Inc., a nonprofit focusing on the holistic development of girls ages 5-18. The goal of the organization is to provide a safe space for girls to develop long-lasting mentoring relationships and build the skills, knowledge, and attitudes to thrive now and as adults.

Rivera spent years of her career working within the themes of self and community empowerment with young people — encouraging them to tap into their full potential. Her passion for youth development and female empowerment eventually led her to Girls Inc., where she served as an agent of positive change helping to inspire all girls to be strong, smart, and bold.

Photo courtesy of Macy's

Inspiring young women from all backgrounds is why Macy's has continued to partner with Girls Inc. for the second year in a row. The partnership will support mentoring programming that offers girls career readiness, college preparation, financial literacy, and more. Last year, Macy's raised over $1.3M for Girls Inc. in support of this program along with their Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) programming for more than 26,000 girls. Studies show that girls who participated are more likely than their peers to enjoy math and science, score higher on standardized math tests, and be more equipped for college and campus life.

Thanks to mentors like Rivera, girls across the country have the tools they need to excel in school and the confidence to change the world. With your help, we can give even more girls the opportunity to rise up. Throughout September 2021, customers can round up their in-store purchases or donate online to support Girls Inc. at Macys.com/MacysGives.

Who runs the world? Girls!

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Over the past six years, it feels like race relations have been on the decline in the U.S. We've lived through Donald Trump's appeals to America's racist underbelly. The nation has endured countless murders of unarmed Black people by police. We've also been bombarded with viral videos of people calling the police on people of color for simply going about their daily lives.

Earlier this year there was a series of incidents in which Asian-Americans were the targets of racist attacks inspired by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Given all that we've seen in the past half-decade, it makes sense for many to believe that race relations in the U.S. are on the decline.

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Photo courtesy of Macy's
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Did you know that girls who are encouraged to discover and develop their strengths tend to be more likely to achieve their goals? It's true. The question, however, is how to encourage girls to develop self-confidence and grow up healthy, educated, and independent.

The answer lies in Girls Inc., a national nonprofit serving girls ages 5-18 in more than 350 cities across North America. Since first forming in 1864 to serve girls and young women who were experiencing upheaval in the aftermath of the Civil War, they've been on a mission to inspire girls to kick butt and step into leadership roles — today and in the future.

This is why Macy's has committed to partnering with Girls Inc. and making it easy to support their mission. In a national campaign running throughout September 2021, customers can round up their in-store purchases to the nearest dollar or donate online to support Girls Inc. and empower girls throughout the country.


Kaylin St. Victor, a senior at Brentwood High School in New York, is one of those girls. She became involved in the Long Island affiliate of Girls Inc. when she was in 9th grade, quickly becoming a role model for her peers.

Photo courtesy of Macy's

Within her first year in the organization, she bravely took on speaking opportunities and participated in several summer programs focused on advocacy, leadership, and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). "The women that I met each have a story that inspires me to become a better person than I was yesterday," said St. Victor. She credits her time at Girls Inc. with making her stronger and more comfortable in her own skin — confidence that directly translates to high achievement in education and the workforce.

In 2020, Macy's helped raise $1.3 million in support of their STEM and college and career readiness programming for more than 26,000 girls. In fact, according to a recent study, Girls Inc. girls are significantly more likely than their peers to enjoy math and science, to be interested in STEM careers, and to perform better on standardized math tests.

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