The story of JEMfriends began in the heart of a young girl who was deeply grieved at the thought of anyone being rejected or forgotten. From the time she first understood the meaning of abortion, Liberty Barrett dreamed of establishing a home where rejected children could be safe and loved. Because of this desire, Liberty’s parents introduced her to the ministry of Hope House, a local children’s home.
As a teenager, Liberty read the story of Amanda, a girl her age who had been placed in several foster homes, had experienced a failed adoption, and had eventually arrived at Hope House. In Amanda’s story, Liberty saw someone who needed a friend. Liberty used her high school years to engage with girls living at Hope House through playing sports, writing letters, and leading prayer groups. Through Liberty’s persistent effort, Amanda became her best friend.
In 2008, the time came for both girls to graduate high school. Liberty could see that youth aging out of foster care face difficult circumstances, but she finally understood the degree of adversity they face when Amanda asked Liberty to speak for her at her graduation. Amanda had no one else to ask. While Liberty had a large circle of people to choose from (family, friends, mentors), Amanda only had one friend to speak for her. While pondering her responsibility and how best to encourage Amanda in her transition, Liberty searched the internet for information about youth leaving children’s homes. She discovered the concept of aging out and the dire situation it presented. Three statistics burned into her mind.
Within 2 years of aging out of foster care:
- 50% of aged-out youth will not have finished high school.
- 25% will be incarcerated.
- 50% will be homeless.
These were the realities that youth, like Liberty’s friend Amanda, had to face because they did not have a loving community around them, supporting their transition. Liberty did not want to see any of her friends experience these statistics, so she made plans to create a community of friends and supporters for aging-out youth. Upon graduating, Liberty founded JEMfriends, naming it after her siblings, her own support system.
JEM stands for Josiah, Jacob, Joel, and Justin, her brothers, and Elysse and Mercy, her sisters. Her siblings believed in her dream as an eighteen-year-old girl to start a non-profit organization. They believed that she could accomplish her goal even though most people and statistics would have called it impossible. To a young woman with a big vision, her siblings exemplified what JEMfriends will always be: a community believing in youth’s potential and helping them to achieve the impossible.