By Taryn Hartman
At age 14, Jasmine Carlton was painfully shy and basically rendered silent because of her teeth, which were warped by a persistent thumb-sucking problem. Before turning 16, she'd become a permanent court ward two times after being beaten by her adoptive mother.
"I never liked to talk to anyone and I didn't have many friends," she says.
Fast-forward five years. Jasmine is now studying political science and creative writing at Saginaw Valley State University, where she'll be a junior at the end of the current cardmarking period. She busily taps away on her computer keyboard while chatting on speakerphone from her job at the school's human resources office. And she moved into her own apartment Monday.
"My mom's a nervous wreck" about the recent move, Jasmine says of her adoptive mother, with whom she was placed at 16 and who still lives in Detroit.
Today, Jasmine is anything but shy, and much of her complete transformation is due to a single pair of braces donated by Dr. Maria Pinzon of Ann Arbor.
Jasmine's case was one of the first to benefit from For the Seventh Generation, a clearing house sponsored by the Detroit Metropolitan Bar Association Foundation that matches donated non-legal services, like dental and orthodontic care, with children who are court wards. The organization is hosting its third-annual "In Seventh Heaven" benefit gala Saturday night at Park West Gallery in Southfield.
"When these braces were put on her, her life changed," says Referee Kelly Ramsey of Wayne County Juvenile Court, who founded For the Seventh Generation. "It's because somebody cared about her. Somebody looked her dead in the eye and loved her."
The mission of For the Seventh Generation is simple: if everyone donated just one service to a single court ward -- braces, a computer, piano lessons -- it would make an incredible impact on enriching the lives of the some 20,000 children currently in foster care across the state of Michigan.
"Public awareness of the needs of our children isn't where it's supposed to be," Ramsey says.
For the Seventh Generation also increases the speediness by which kids can access much-needed services: an optometrist can donate an eye exam and glasses to a child struggling to see the chalkboard without waiting 90 days for insurance to kick in, by which time the student likely would've fallen far behind his peers academically, tarnishing his self-esteem in the process.
The organization's name comes from a Native American ideal of making decisions about sustainability and the environment while keeping in mind their impact on the next seven generations of children.
"I think the principle of that applies to our children," Ramsey says. "Every decision that we make can impact these children for the rest of their lives."
It's certainly made an impact on Jasmine, who now says she has increased "self-esteem, courage, and respect for myself," adding that she probably wouldn't have gone to school if it weren't for the braces.
She remembers initially being intimidated by Ramsey and the enthusiastic interest she showed in Jasmine when the two first met, and says she expected to be let down -- just like every other adult in her life had done.
"I thought, 'Here's another broken promise,'" Jasmine says.
Instead, when the braces came off, "I felt like a brand new person," Jasmine says. She has since been inspired to give back herself as a volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters and Special Olympics.
Ronald Gover, 18, who also received braces through For the Seventh Generation, was 16 when he and his seven siblings were placed in foster care.
Although he had wanted braces for a long time to increase his self-esteem, "I felt that that was a little too much to ask for," he says. It took awhile to make the arrangements, prompting Ronald, like Jasmine, to think that it wasn't going to happen, but Ramsey came through.
"It showed me that somebody cared," says Ronald, who is planning to study social work and become a foster care worker. "We can't always get everything we want in life, but if you do right, good things can come."
For the Seventh Generation has made its greatest strides in providing court wards with dental services not typically covered by insurance. State caseworkers can solicit services for their assigned court wards through the organization's online database at http://7thgen.detroitlawyer.org/.
Saturday's event includes a live art auction and silent auction of donated items including services and gift certificates. Tickets are $75 and more information is available at http://www.detroitlawyer.org.
Published: Thu, Apr 29, 2010