As Greg Rapport read through Martha Shirk’s On Their Own, a harrowing tale about the all-too-common grim fate awaiting foster kids who age out of the system, every page felt like a horror film. He read about the downward spirals many youth face after leaving the foster care system—homelessness, jail sentences and death plague the age-out population.
One in five will become homeless after age 18, according to a foster care advocate group, the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative. Just half will be employed at 24. Fewer than 3 percent will earn a college degree. Seventy-one percent of young women will be pregnant 21. One in four experience PTSD as a result of the trauma faced in childhood.
These are exactly the kinds of situations Rapport hopes to stop.
He and his wife Robin adopted both of their children—Gavin, 23, and Jackie, 20—and raised them from infancy. Seeing firsthand just how much of a difference a loving family can make in the life of an adopted child was an early tug that started encouraging Rapport to pivot from his previous life as a medical writer. It’s what encouraged him to start the Age-Out Angels Foundation in May 2015, an organization that hopes to help foster kids who “age out” of the system progress to a lifestyle of independence and stability.
He initially considered starting an adoption agency of his own; however, it was during his research for that venture that he changed direction after reading On Their Own.
“It had me riveted from the first page,” said Rapport, 59, a resident of Lawrence Township and long-time Troop Committee Chairman for Ewing Boy Scout Troop 33. “What happens to those youth is just so horrible, the way they become prey and easy targets. I read that book in one sitting, and I don’t know how to describe it as anything other than finding my calling.”
He answered the calling by leaving his marketing business, Rapport Communications, to found Age-Out Angels. Rapport was awarded nonprofit status from the IRS this past February, and he is hoping to go national with it within the next two decades.
Rapport, a part-time comedian, said that New Jersey is “one of the best states in the country” in terms of the services it makes available to foster youth who no longer are protected by the system, but may still need that extra layer of assistance. In fact, rather than an 18th birthday signaling the end of youth-benefits qualification, they can stay within the system until they’re 21.
Still, those additional three years will pass eventually, whether or not the person is ready. Age-Out Angels’ mission is to help by pairing those young adults with mentors who will provide the guidance and emotional support they need to succeed—and in many cases, never received as they were growing up.
Rapport said that having government services available to help at-risk foster youth adjust to life as legally emancipated citizens is only part of the solution, especially considering that “in the life of a foster child, everyone has abandoned them.” He emphasizes that being categorized as adults in age only does these youth a disservice. They often don’t have the means or know-how to effectively provide for themselves.
Rapport cites a nine-item list of “success diagnostics” that identifies the elements of a comfortable existence: living accommodations; food and clothing; physical, mental and dental healthcare; education; employment; economics; transportation; legal services; and emotional support. While most people have these fundamentals covered as they enter adulthood, many foster kids face barriers that hold them back.
“The system just doesn’t work for them,” Rapport said. “The state will provide certain things for a youth who’s aging out of the system, but the problem is that a typical 18-year-old doesn’t have the facility to deal with the procedures that accompany accessing government-provided services. They just don’t.”
For example, he said, these kids don’t have driver’s licenses, usually because no one ever taught them how to drive. “How are they going to get a New Jersey photo ID? Take four buses to the DMV and then sit there all day, only to find out that they don’t have all of the other eight points of identification that they need?”
Some of these youths do have advocates, like a case worker on their side to help clear unfamiliar hurdles of becoming fully self-sustaining, gainfully employed adults, but Rapport has noticed there is a woeful lack of reliable support in far too many instances.
“The only ways to be placed in foster care are if the child is suffering abuse, neglect, or both,” Rapport said. “Add to that the further trauma of being taken from the only family you’ve ever known and sent to live with strangers, and you have all the evidence you need that these children deserve a helping hand. When everyone in your life has abandoned you, you need one person to remind you that you are worthwhile.”
Enter the Age-Out Angels mentors. Thanks to his tireless one-man outreach campaign, Rapport has found much success partnering with Mercer County “for-profit companies with a have a social-minded arm,” like Church & Dwight, Bristol-Myers Squibb and ETS.
He has compiled a database with about 30 prospective mentors who will be trained “to think like social workers.” Before becoming part of the program, the will be fingerprinted and be subjected to state and federal background checks. Once accepted, they will participate in activities like meet-and-greets in order to give foster youth an opportunity to organically connect with a mentor.
“A mentor, first of all, isn’t meant to duplicate services that these youth are already getting, but instead find the gaps where those services aren’t providing for them,” Rapport said. “The other thing that these youth need—and they need this desperately—is a friend. They need a mentor to help them with things that fall through the cracks, and to make sure they stay on course.”
Rapport points out that foster children often grow up without consistently reliable support, making it crucial for a mentor to be aware that their role is not to just help a foster youth overcome a few obstacles and then move on, but rather to forge the kind of lifelong connection that starts with an organically developed relationship.
Befitting Rapport’s long-held belief that the best way to reach children is individually rather than approaching their varied needs, wants, experiences, and personalities via lowest common denominator, he believes that the bond between a mentor and their youth should be as unique as both individuals to be a truly beneficial, life-changing one.
“Mentors come in all shapes and sizes because the kids are all different,” he said. “We want to put mentors and youth together in social settings and let them choose each other. What makes it a lasting relationship is if they find each other across a crowded room. I don’t want to assign a child to an adult. I want them to be friends forever, I want that mentor to be the one person who doesn’t just help them do this and then disappear. They help them, and then be their friend, show up at their wedding, be the one person who always reminds them that they are worthwhile and not the system’s castoff.”
Rapport estimates that he spends about 90 percent of his time working on the Age-Out Angels project, and about 10 percent to his other long-time activities as a part time comedian and musician performing at small venues in the area. He does use those performance, though, as opportunities to help find a wider audience for his charity.
“I haven’t yet found the funny in Age-Out Angels to include it in a comedy act, but the point of these performances is to promote it, to be my bully pulpit for publicizing Age-Out Angels—and, of course, to make people laugh, too,” Rapport said. “Most importantly, people need to know that there are children who just need someone, and our hope is that we can provide that for them.”
For more information about or to find out how to get involved with The Age-Out Angels Foundation, visit ageoutangels.org, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (609) 306-0821.