Stories to Inspire

From The Imprint–The records Arnisia Coleman has of her childhood are mostly court documents. Judges’ orders on foster care placements dating back to when she was 3. Social worker reports. Minutes and motions from court hearings.

Hardly any photos were taken of Coleman at the Minnesota foster homes where she was placed — including a household where she lived for a decade.

Coleman, 20, of Coon Rapids, Minnesota, craves details that remain elusive about her heritage, extended family, medical history and photos of her classmates and favorite pets.

“We need this,” she said of foster children like herself who lack personal archives. “This would’ve helped me a long time ago.”

All too often, if foster youth like Coleman have records at all, they detail allegations of parental abuse and neglect, traumatic encounters with child protective services and the court hearings that dictated their lives. There are typically few mementos of those who loved them and the places they visited as children, just for fun.

Those overlooked but vital details of life are the focus of Power of Story, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit working to preserve the personal histories of young people who have experienced out-of-home care. Staff members at the organization work with kids, their therapists and county workers to compile photos, childhood memories, insights from family members, medical information and lists of places they’ve lived and schools they’ve attended.

The final product is called a lifebook. The books piece together fragmented memories of children’s pasts, and are given to each child to keep in a three-ring binder so the archiving can continue. An electronic version is also kept with the child’s county.

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