When kids age out of the foster care system, Brandy Coty steps in.
Brandy Coty stood in her kitchen preparing dinner for her family. It was a quiet moment in what some might describe as a chaotic season of her life. Out of nowhere—with no reason and no words—one of Brandy’s girls walked over and hugged her. She had never done that before, and Brandy knew the significance of the moment because of the nature of the girl’s past. Child Protective Services (cps) had removed her from a physically and sexually abusive home and placed her in the foster care system at a young age. She bounced from home to home until she turned 18. Reaching adulthood meant there was nowhere to go—she’d “aged out.” Similar stories can be told by the other girls in Brandy’s care and by foster kids all over the country.
Hearing stories like these moved Brandy to take action and start a non-profit organization called Zoie’s Place—a home for girls who have aged out of the foster care system but are desperately unprepared for life on their own. And it’s not just some sterile, transitional facility—it’s her home. Essentially, Brandy, a single, 32-year-old member of Gateway, opens her home to take in girls the foster care system has failed and show them the love of Jesus while equipping them for adulthood.
As of now, the three spots she has available are occupied by a 22-year-old, and two 18-year-old girls. “One of my girls was homeless—straight from the streets,” says Brandy. “Another one of my girls came from Austin Street Homeless Shelter, and my third girl came from a rickety hotel in South Dallas.”
Brandy estimates that in all of Dallas, there are only 40 to 60 beds for young women in this situation—a number that pales in comparison to the 411 homeless youth recorded in Dallas in 2015.
Without resources like Zoie’s Place, these girls would have very limited options. “They would be staying at shelters,” says Brandy. “They would be sleeping on the train and in the streets.” Yet Zoie’s Place offers more than just a place to sleep. Her goal is to help her girls acquire the basic skills they never learned growing up. In fact, as she is sharing her story with me, one of the girls is sitting at the kitchen table taking a GED practice test. Every night, they all cook dinner together, and then she helps them fill out job applications and pick out clothes, so they can look their best for job interviews. “One of my girls came to me with just the outfit she had on and a pair of pajamas,” says Brandy. “You can’t start looking for a job until you get them acclimated to a new way of living. Now the girl works two jobs.” She has helped them get new clothes, photo IDs, social security cards, and birth certificates among other things.
Though Zoie’s Place has only been operating for six months, it grew from a seed planted when Brandy worked as a CPS caseworker 10 years ago. Fresh out of college, she encountered things she never expected. “I had kids who were in full-body casts from the physical abuse,” she says. “I remember my first case as a social worker. I went to see two siblings, 4 and 6 years old, living in a house filled with roaches. They told me they had nightmares about bugs crawling on them, but those weren’t nightmares. That’s all they knew in life.”
In the years that followed, Brandy earned a reputation for working well with teenagers. That’s when she met a young girl named Zoie, who bounced around from one foster care placement to another. Zoie’s story struck a chord with Brandy, but as much as she tried to help her, she knew the foster care system was failing her. In fact, of the roughly 120 kids who age out of the foster care system in Dallas County each year, Brandy estimates that 75 percent of them are unprepared for life on their own.
Life as a social worker began to take an emotional toll on her, and she decided to make a change by taking a job teaching English in South Korea for a year. During her time there, she encountered the Holy Spirit for the first time and began to grow in her relationship with God in a new way.
She returned to the United States in the summer of 2014; it didn’t take long for her to find a home at Gateway’s Dallas Campus where she actively volunteers with Gateway Young Adults. It was during this season that Zoie’s Place came to fruition. And while running a non-profit, stepping into a motherly role, and relying on God for provision has been difficult, she has found help and direction from Gateway Outreach and strength from her Gateway family. “I couldn’t do this without the emotional support of the church,” she says. “Because this is really hard.”
Although she has to work through the many growing pains of Zoie’s Place, Brandy is hopeful about the future. “There are so many young people and not enough resources,” she says. “But I know we will grow beyond this one house and make an even bigger difference.”
For more information on Zoie’s Place, visit zoiesplace.org.