BIRMINGHAM, Mich. (WXYZ) — A Birmingham initiative called The Great Decorate is all set to make this holiday season extra special for teens that will soon age out of the foster care system.
Participating shops construct and decorate a holiday tree representing a different local foster teen in need.
The public then votes for their favorites with an online donation.
The founder of the initiative and owner of the restaurant Hazel, Ravines and Downtown, Beth Hussey, says the concept started back in 2019 as an internal holiday morale booster. It has now expanded throughout downtown Birmingham.
"The employees wanted to do something charitable and I knew my best friend Tara is a foster parent and we knew right away that is the charity we wanted to benefit," Hussey said.
Last year, 32 businesses took part and raised $70,000, which was evenly split among 20 local foster teens.
Tara Fortney, a foster mom, says once the kids turn 18, they are presented with the check.
"The last young lady that we had in here a couple of weeks ago, Brianne, she turned 18 and she said she was going to use it to put a down payment on an apartment," Fortney said.
According to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, there are approximately 13,000 children in foster care across the state. And if not adopted before they turn 18, they will have to learn to survive on their own.
"The statistics are awful. Some of the girls, a huge percentage of them become pregnant. Fifty percent of them are jobless within four years," Fortney said.
Le’Asia, a foster kid, says that’s why initiatives like The Great Decorate make a big difference.
"There are so many problems that they go through every day that they don't talk about. And it's really irritating because people are like, it's OK, I understand — you don't understand because you didn't go through it," Le’Asia said.
As for the tree at the restaurant, this year Hussey and her team used 60 boat oars to create the design.
"So every employee took one or several and decorated their oars and brought them back and turned it into a tree," Hussey said.
This year, there are 34 merchants across downtown Birmingham taking part in The Great Decorate.
For more information about the initiative or to donate to the cause, visit www.thegreatdecorate.com.