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Susan Robinson's mission to get foster kids adopted one painting at a time

There are nearly 14,000 foster kids in Minnesota, 40 percent of whom are five or under.

There are nearly 14,000 foster kids in Minnesota, 40 percent of whom are five or under.

Life spanked Susan Robinson. The Minnetonka native found herself in a distant land in her adopted state of Florida with a daughter in elementary school and a husband wracked with cancer.

When oncologists ordered husband Peter Parker to Seattle for bone marrow transplants, the whole family relocated to the Pacific Northwest. 

Robinson was pulling double duty, raising 10-year-old child Clara while tending to her husband.

Family members in Washington, D.C. and Minnesota ganged up. One would fly in to support. When that person would leave, another was deplaning the very same day. 

"It was rotating support while he was sick," says Robinson. "They literally flew all over the country to hospitals — and we were at a lot of them over 11 months. I never heard a word about the cost of last-minute airfare. It was BOOM! They were there."

Peter died in 2005, but the lessons of family still resonate inside Robinson.

She came home to Minnesota four years ago and started Foster Art Company, which donates 20 percent of its profits so others may feel the strength of home.

The business' online art collection is culled from after-school programs, summer camps, and Foster Art-sponsored workshops. Each piece's creator is a kid, ranging from one to 21.

There are nature and animal prints, abstract paintings and black-and-whites. None retail for more than $42. A portion of Foster Art's profits are pipelined to the The Minneapolis Foundation, which administers more than 1,200 charitable funds. The Foundation, in turn, applies the money to finding adoptive families for foster children and to life skills programs for kids who turn age 18 in the system.

"These kids who have jumped from home to home, there's no way for them to build trust, to know and feel that sense of unspoken safety of a family and a home," Robinson says. "They're just little kids. It's not their fault their family life fell apart."

More than 400,000 American children are in foster care. Almost 14,000 of them are in Minnesota. About 40 percent are age five or younger. Almost 61,000 wait to be adopted, meaning they're either orphaned or the courts have terminated their biological parents' rights.

Each year, about 20,000 youth "age out" of foster homes when they reach age 18 or finish high school, though some states have extended care through ages 20 or 21.

The pitfalls are many for those who are never afforded a home of their own. Almost a quarter find themselves homeless at least once. Only half have jobs by age 24. More than two-thirds of the women become pregnant within a handful of years while approximately 60 percent of the men are convicted of a crime.

At the moment, Foster Art's annual sales only number in the dozens. But Robinson is working to turn it into a national company that helps kids find homes. 

 

"It's a disaster for a kid not to have a family life," she says. "We know too well what happens to many foster children who age out of the system. This is a disaster we can do something about. They're just little kids. They deserve to know what trust and unconditional love feels like."