Hollywood actress wants higher graduation rates for foster kids

11:18 a.m. Friday, March 17, 2017 Living
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - MARCH 07: Actress Victoria Rowell attends The Alliance For Children's Rights' 21st Annual Dinner at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on March 7, 2013 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

Actress Victoria Rowell easily rattles off a list of reasons why she lends her name to raise awareness for the Carrie Steele-Pitts Home.

The nonprofit child care agency — which was started by a black woman who cared for orphans in abandoned boxcars along Atlanta’s rail line — has a 100-percent graduation rate. The organization has worked with 50 public schools and still operates with integrity as it celebrates its 129th anniversary.

“How they began — and what they continue to do — says so much about the institution,” said Rowell, mostly known for her longtime role on the “Young and the Restless.”

Also a New York Times best-selling author, Rowell will take the stage Saturday at a sold-out high tea fundraiser in the Savannah Room at the Four Seasons Hotel Atlanta in Midtown. The event will also will honor several for their contributions to child welfare programs, host a hat auction, and have live music from international jazz harmonicist Frédéric Yonnet alongside local harpist Lisa Handman. Among other things, Rowell will serve as the hat auctioneer, and will be among local Atlanta notables, such as former CBS46 news anchor Gloria Neal, who will emcee the event.

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The mission of the Carrie Steele-Pitts Home is one near and dear to Rowell’s heart. She grew up in the foster care system and has seen first-hand the impact of people taking an interest in children who aren’t biologically their own.

Rowell held successful high tea fundraisers for her own nonprofit, Rowell Foster Children’s Positive Plan, for many years, often at the Beverly Hills Hotel. She said the event doubles as a mentoring opportunity for the children, learning a process they wouldn’t necessarily have a chance to experience and mingling with people with which they often wouldn’t interact. Children from the home will participate as volunteers.

“We want them to witness the affair so that they can see that people care about them,” Rowell said. “And carry the baton forward … to invest (in the Carrie Steele-Pitts Home) themselves in the years to come.”

According to a 2015 report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, more than 415,000 children in the country are in foster care.

“When we don’t get involved with our children, only 8 percent of youth in foster care graduate high school,” Rowell explains. “Three percent will attend post-secondary school, including vocational, and 1 percent (of that) complete it. One in five will be homeless after age 18, half will be unemployed at 24. Seventy-five percent of the prison system was once in foster care.

“These are shocking statistics.”

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Evelyn Lavizzo, left, executive director of the Carrie Steele-Pitts Home, meets with Victoria Rowell on the set of “A Baby for Christmas,” filmed in Atlanta. (Photo courtesy of UP TV)

She learned about the Carrie Steele-Pitts Home while filming a movie in Atlanta. The story goes that Carrie Steele, an emancipated slave, began finding abandoned children in downtown Atlanta after a Typhoid epidemic resulted in many deaths. The maid cared for the children in an abandoned boxcar. The organization’s first building was funded through community donations.

Rowell instantly became involved. Rowell even suggested adding the agency to a storyline in a Christmas movie, “A Baby for Christmas.” The exposure brought more awareness nationally to the historic agency.

“I wanted to show how media can make a difference if there’s willingness,” she said. “It is our responsibility, where we sit and stand, to mine out the possibilities. It’s not been easy to do it, but I’m persistent.”

Evelyn Lavizzo, executive director for the Carrie Steele-Pitts Home, said about 13,000 youth live in foster care in Georgia. The awareness and donations received through outreach such as Rowell’s lends itself to providing quality services “so children can pursue their dreams.”

“It’s been amazing,” she said. “The high tea … will bring more awareness as we celebrate 129 years of continuous operations and that about 27,000 souls have called the Carrie Steele-Pitts Home their home.”

Funds raised from the high tea will help the organization continue to offer expanded programs to young adults 18 to 21 years old, among other things.

“We need to make sure we have the services they need in place so they can transition into adulthood and be successful,” she said.

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