Remembering the Orphan
Allen L. Griffin is no stranger to the difficulties of the foster care system. Growing up in a home with 26 foster siblings, Griffin witnessed from a young age how the state shuffled children from household to household. To the state, the kids represented numbers in the welfare system. But to Griffin, they meant family.
“I never called them foster brothers,” he says. “I just called them brothers.”
But in 2012, one of Griffin’s former foster brothers, Addison Terrell, was murdered. Terrell had remained in contact with his foster family over the years and would visit regularly. Several months after his last visit, the Griffin family learned that Terrell had been shot in his apartment complex. No one had filed a police report.
“It was like this young man didn’t exist,” Griffin recounts. “And if we hadn’t said Addison was a part of our lives, there would have been no one to even acknowledge that he ever lived.”
Griffin has traveled as an ordained AG evangelist since 2001. He is a doctoral candidate of Southeastern University, the Assemblies of God school in Lakeland, Florida, where he received his master’s in leadership. Besides traveling to preach the gospel nationally and internationally, Griffin and his wife of 19 years, Hashmareen, have dedicated their lives to serving orphans and foster teens in their community of Ormond Beach. Only six months after Terrell’s death, they launched the Florida-based organization Excellerate, a 16-week program providing transferable life skills for orphans and teens in foster care. Their goal is to help students become successful and engaged community members before they age out of the foster system.
Through relational mentoring and group training, students learn about Excellerate’s five pillars: life skills, professionalism, financial responsibility, social skills, and spiritual growth. While the majority of state agencies advise about 10 hours of life-skills training for foster teens, Excellerate offers upwards of 90 hours.
Students learn about time management, leadership, problem solving, and study methods. They figure out how to write a résumé, give a presentation, and interview for a job. The program also utilizes Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University to equip students to steward their financial resources.
“Our classroom is a table and we sit together, we eat together, we learn together,” Griffin says in describing the classes. “It’s kind of like Thanksgiving.”
One of the greatest gifts students gain from Excellerate is the key to a donated vehicle. The car is intended to give graduates independence and the ability to drive themselves to school, work, and church.
With their new skills — and transportation — Excellerate graduates are equipped to start their adult lives. Many teens, once abused and neglected, have since gone on to attend college and launch professional careers. In addition, Griffin, 45, estimates that 25 percent of Excellerate graduates go into ministry.
One such student was Elijah Hudson, who started auditing Excellerate classes at 16 and stayed for two years. By the time Hudson entered the foster system, he had been abused physically, verbally, and sexually.
“I’ll never forget one of our classes I taught on forgiveness,” recalls Griffin. “Elijah wept over his table. And I heard him whispering, I forgive you. I forgive you.” That same day, Hudson accepted his call into ministry.
A few weeks later, Hudson joined other Excellerate members for a field trip to Bethune-Cookman University, a historically black school in Daytona Beach. He walked away with a full-ride scholarship.
Despite the pain of their experience in the foster system, many students like Hudson have found healing, faith, and the practical resources in Excellerate so that they thrive in early adulthood.
In the five years since the inception of the Excellerate program, the Griffins have seen over 100 orphaned teens enter the program, with 84 of them receiving automobiles so far. But the ultimate solution is not in professionalism training courses or free vehicles, Griffin believes.
“The Church is the answer,” Griffin says.
With over 400,000 students in foster care across the country, Griffin’s hope is for every church to advocate for children and teens in the foster care system and for church members to adopt and foster children in need. Ministries such as the AG’s COMPACT Family Services actively help local churches and congregants meet the needs of orphans in their communities.