Join us today for the Saturday Night Special with the founder of the Empty Frames Foundation Miriam Cobb...

In this episode Miriam Cobb and I talk about foster care and her mission...

In tonight’s Saturday Night Special I interview Miriam Cobb.  I ask Miriam what brought her to found the Empty Frames initiative.  I also ask her what the mission of Empty frames really is.  Miriam also shares why she has a passion for foster care and preventing human trafficking.

Join in on the Chat below.

SNS 146: Saturday Night Special – Interview with the founder of the Empty Frames Initiative Miriam Cobb

[00:00:00] Scott Maderer: Welcome to tonight's Saturday night, special episode 146.

[00:00:05] Miriam Cobb: Hi, I'm Miriam Cobb. I challenge you to invest in yourself, invest in others, develop your influence and impact the world by using your time, your talent and your treasures to live out your calling. Having the ability to find your passionate calling is key.

[00:00:19] And one way to be inspired to do that is to listen to this. The inspired stewardship podcast with my friend, Scott.

[00:00:26] it just looks different every time. Because it's it's a human system and it's broad like we are, but in theory when it works well, the goal is reunification. In theory, it is for families who are having a hard time.

[00:00:42] Scott Maderer: welcome. And thank you for joining us on the inspired stewardship podcasts. If you truly desire to become the person who God wants you to be, then you must learn to use your time, your talent and your treasures for your true calling in the inspired stewardship podcast. We'll [00:01:00] learn to invest in yourself, invest in others and develop your.

[00:01:05] So that you can impact the world

[00:01:08] And tonight, Saturday night special. I interview Miriam cob. I asked Miriam what brought her to found the empty frames initiative. I also asked her what the mission of the empty frames really is and Miriam shares while she has a passion for foster care and preventing human tracks. No one area that a lot of folks need some help with is around the area of productivity.

[00:01:35] Getting not just more things done, but actually getting the right things done can be really tough. I've got a course called productivity for your passion. That's designed to help you do this and then to hold you accountable and walk with you so that you can tailor productivity, not just to be getting more done, [00:02:00] but actually getting the right things done.

[00:02:02] What's more, we take the approach of looking at your personality and how you actually look at things in the world and tailor the productivity system to your personnel. Because the truth is a lot of the systems that are out there are written really well for somebody with a particular personality type.

[00:02:20] But if you have a different approach to things, they just don't work, but there's tools and techniques and approaches that you can take that will work for anyone. And we help you do that in productivity for your passion. Check it out slash law. We were in cob is the founder and director at the empty frames initiative, a nonprofit dedicated to empowering orphaned and vulnerable youth.

[00:02:46] As they transition out of state care within this role, Miriam advocates for youth exiting care, compiles new and successful resources for this population and develops programs and curriculum to meet [00:03:00] international. Welcome to the show, Miriam. Thanks for having me. So we talked a little bit about the empty frames initiative in the intro the non-profit that you founded, but what actually brought you to the point of putting together and beginning the empty frames in this.

[00:03:19] Miriam Cobb: Yeah, there's a long sequence of events that led me here. The short, the shortest answer is God. He laid orphan care on my heart at around 14, 15. He took me to Eastern Europe after high school, where I met a lot of youth who were in vulnerable situations, even outside of orphan care. And then in my twenties, he led me to California where I was mentored by a group called Decaux.

[00:03:41] That taught me about entrepreneurship from a. Biblical perspective and that's where he laid on the subject of youth transitioning out of state care really heavily on my heart, and then continued to confirm that over and over in my life. So let's expand on that a little bit. So at 14 or 15 I [00:04:00] I've got an 18 year old son and he's still trying to figure out what he wants to do with this life.

[00:04:03] Scott Maderer: So how did you start hearing that message from God so early? Do you, was there something in your experience. Yeah.

[00:04:11] Miriam Cobb: I grew up in a Christian home. I had parents who really believed that God spoke and that had a significant impact on my life. And then when I was, like I said, 14 or 15, I read a book called choosing to see by Mary Beth Chapman and it's her autobiography.

[00:04:26] But she goes into the story of how she adopted three girls from China. And it wasn't even the focus point of the book. The book was about her processing, her grief and the trauma of losing one of those girls. But Through it, God really just spoke to me that this was something that I was supposed to do.

[00:04:42] And it wasn't clear, like it wasn't, oh, you're supposed to adopt all you're supposed to do foster care net 14, 15. It's not like I could have done those things right away. Anyway, it was just God being really gracious in saying, Hey, this is important for your life.

[00:04:53] Scott Maderer: And I think that's important to recognize too, because when we talk about God speaking to us [00:05:00] and I work with a lot of people that are trying to figure out their calling and it's.

[00:05:04] It's usually not a shout. It's a whisper, if that makes sense. Yeah. So the European trip, did that come about? What was that a different trip or was that, and then you had that experience or was that a deliberately to go find out what was going on or how. That was

[00:05:23] Miriam Cobb: also ran. I I finished high school, went straight into college and then after my first semester, I really felt like God was saying, Hey, there's something else.

[00:05:33] And I was like, oh, okay. And so I took a semester off and I ended up going with a group called Josiah venture to serve in labia. And I knew that group through a friend. Maybe it's where we could trust them. And I could go at 18, almost 19 and it was like, okay, this is safe. My family approved. And it ended up being just a really.

[00:05:53] Fantastic time doing things that I wasn't necessarily comfortable with. I was teaching English and [00:06:00] music and sports, and I'm not good at any of those things.

[00:06:02] Scott Maderer: Yeah, people like it. It's always interesting to read it to people in Europe who are fluent in four languages or five languages. I'm like, I'm barely fluent in one.

[00:06:10] What are you talking

[00:06:12] Miriam Cobb: exactly? That's me. I can't speak any other languages really. And there, they were like, do you want to do the basic English? We are teaching. Again, her words, or do you want you to, are you hoping that with grammar I'm like, if you put me into the grammar when I'm not gonna be able to do anything before

[00:06:26] Scott Maderer: I'm a bad example.

[00:06:28] Miriam Cobb: Yeah, exactly. Yeah.

[00:06:32] Scott Maderer: So the empty frames initiative let's talk a little bit more about that and you've in the intro, we talk about it dedicated to empowering orphaned and vulnerable youth. And you mentioned the transition from state care, but talk a little bit more about. What have you set this up to do?

[00:06:51] Why is that important? What should people know about what the empty frame initiative does?

[00:06:56] Miriam Cobb: Aging out happens around the world sometimes to individuals as young [00:07:00] as 16. And right now we're working specifically in the U S where it happens commonly between 18 and 21. And what happens is they have reached a point where they can no longer stay in either the orphanage or in foster care.

[00:07:11] A lot of them, the reason that this. Aged out is because they were never placed with a family that would be permanent for them. And so when someone is at that really young age, And put out into the world on their own, regardless of how many supports the state can put in place for them. It's really hard.

[00:07:30] It's really hard to try to be by yourself at that age. I would say impossible.

[00:07:36] Scott Maderer: I have an 18 year old son. I trust me. I'm right there with you. Yeah.

[00:07:40] Miriam Cobb: Yeah. And the thing is we're looking at the concept of like biblical community and just community in general. It's we're not supposed to be at any.

[00:07:48] Completely isolated. So what we look to do is help by providing training in life skills, counseling community, and access to the gospel by really intentionally partnering up the church [00:08:00] and those who want to help this population with this population. And we're looking to do this by PR by opening a short-term residential program.

[00:08:08] For youth who are aging out of us foster care that can serve as a model across the U S and across the world. We've done a lot of small projects leading up to this. The most notable is our book, the story of foster care, which was told by three former foster youth to social workers and two foster parents.

[00:08:27] And they went through a training program. We developed called storytelling through photography.

[00:08:31] Scott Maderer: Oh, cool. Yeah. How did that come about? Yeah. Again, I, when our people ask how this happened, I'm like ed there's only God that I can really point that to. Photography was something I've been interested in and I'd taken a lot of classes for, and it was something that I was like thinking I could pass on as a life skill.

[00:08:51] Miriam Cobb: And as we were talking to youth who were in foster care, they were telling us that some of the biggest obstacles that are facing was learning interpersonal [00:09:00] communication and dealing with conflict and knowing who to trust. And so we saw the need for a literacy program where they had control of their own story and narrative.

[00:09:08] And so we partnered those two things together. As we were trying to show people, it's this is what empty frames initiative could look like. That was one of the best advice we got from the people in California was like, just start at the smallest based component. And we're like, we want to partner them with community and like safety, but the base thing is partnering them with community.

[00:09:29] And the ability to interact with that community safely. So we started with this program and it's the only piece of our curriculum. That's exclusively, ours. Everything else is just tried and true practices that other people have developed.

[00:09:42] Scott Maderer: So when you think about the foster care system first off, I think most people aren't very familiar with it and less.

[00:09:50] In the foster care system or involved with it in some way, or like in my case, I have my niece, her and her husband were foster [00:10:00] parents and now have adopted they're now the permanent home for three foster, formerly foster children. So I've got some familiarity, but not complete.

[00:10:10] Tell us a little bit about the system itself and I let's start first with how does it work when it works? If that makes sense, you

[00:10:19] Miriam Cobb: know? Yeah. It does make sense. And that's actually one of the things we built the book around, like when we had our people working through the very first one to pilot, it we're like, can you tell us what this looks like when it works?

[00:10:29] We asked the exact same question. They were like, it just looks different every time. Because it's it's a human system. Flawed like we are, but in theory when it works well, the goal is reunification. In theory, it is for families who are having a hard time, who aren't able to take care of their children.

[00:10:50] Let's say for instance, they went into a situation where they were unemployed for extended period and then became homeless. And while the parents are [00:11:00] trying to get back on their feet, their children need a place to be. There are people who are trained by the state to watch these children, to invite them into their home and to care for them until their parents are back on their feet and have the training to stay on their feet.

[00:11:14] And then the children will be reunified. It's more common, not more common. The most common cause of a child entering the system is neglect. The common age where youth will enter into foster care is eight years old. And a lot of people know foster care by the horror stories of the things that go tragically wrong, whether it be the reason the child entered the system or the reason that they are on the news because of something the foster parent did.

[00:11:42] And those things really do happen. And it's very unfortunate, but the way that the system is supposed to work is providing a safe home and family for the child until they're able to be returned to their family or until the family is able to adopt them, because it is no longer safe to go home.

[00:11:56] Scott Maderer: And I guess that's [00:12:00] brings us to the other point.

[00:12:01] Obviously it doesn't always work well. And what are some of the connections between foster care and. Human trafficking. And some of the other things that happens when it does go wrong. And I want to add to that if you can and draw out what we as listeners, what we can listen for, watch for, or due to.

[00:12:21] Miriam Cobb: Yeah. And that's a great question. I think that the right away, everyone can use more education on the concept of human trafficking. So I'll start by defining it. It is the use of force fraud or coercion to compel a person into commercial sex that's or labor against their will. This happens around the world.

[00:12:40] It happens in the us daily. It can happen to anyone is a really common thing you hear, but youth who are in foster care and more vulnerable. There are a lot of reasons for this. The first being that they're disconnected from their communities, as soon as they enter foster. The safety net of people who know, Hey, this is not your normal behavior.

[00:12:57] They're gone. They have often [00:13:00] transitioned between several homes. They may have experienced abuse physical, sexual, emotional, even before entering the system or when they enter the foster care system. And they're often looking for people who will love and care for them sincerely. And all of those things are common vulnerabilities that human traffickers prey upon.

[00:13:18] So there's the need for shelter, the need for love. The desire to fit in somewhere. That's a really common thing that traffickers will prey on. We see this vulnerability reflected in the numbers and we don't talk, we don't hear this often, but they've done studies across the us on youth who are rescued from human trap.

[00:13:36] The smallest number that you'll see is about 50% of those rescued from trafficking had a history in the child welfare system. And the largest number tends to be around 89%. So they've already been contacted by child welfare. They already knew they had a vulnerability. They may have already flagged them for potential trafficking, or they may have been in foster care before they were ever actually taken out of those situations.

[00:13:59] [00:14:00] And for us, when you age out of foster care, they face additional vulnerabilities. It's really just compounding all of those things that they were already dealing with because they have hard time maintaining work or a job. And like I said, the ones that we've spoken to have said that they had a hard time figuring out who to trust.

[00:14:17] And how to deal with conflict when things came up. So if it's common for them to have a rotating door of people in their life, because they can't get past a simple conflict, then one person who decides, Hey I'll be your friend for a longterm time and is grooming them for trafficking. They're just so much more.

[00:14:35] Vulnerable. I keep saying vulnerable, but susceptible, needy and endanger of it

[00:14:41] Scott Maderer: so well and in part it's, because they're like you mentioned earlier, they're disconnected from a long-standing community. In so many cases. Obviously again, we just talked about it works well sometimes too.

[00:14:55] It's not like the foster care system is completely broken and there's nothing good out of it. [00:15:00] That's not what was you're saying but because it can set up a situation where they're moving from community school, to school, family, to family in many cases it makes it even harder to have any routes that help.

[00:15:16] Don't prevent it, but help reduce your likelihood. So with with that in mind what are things that, that we can do as listeners that can help that can help the foster care community and the youth that are in it to be what is it that we should be looking for?

[00:15:38] What is it that we can be listening for doing to help. Yeah.

[00:15:41] Miriam Cobb: If you want to start with the education about human trafficking, so you have a better idea of where to, what to look for and where to look. I would check out Polaris P O L a R I S. And they have a list of the signs of human trafficking and the different variations that it comes in.

[00:15:59] If [00:16:00] you're talking about from the foster care system side of it, The more foster families that are set up in communities means that kids won't have to go as far away. And that doesn't mean you have to become a foster parent yourself as much as advocating for foster care where you live. If you feel called to do foster care, get educated, get trauma training go through the.

[00:16:20] Be a support for people that are in your community that are already fostering, because there's such a high turnover rate of foster parents. Like they'll, there'll be foster parents for a year and then they'll stop. The more support we can give people who have a heart to do this, the better, whether that's babysitting or cooking a meal, or just being someone they can talk to.

[00:16:39] All of those things, help prevent someone else from experiencing the vulnerability.

[00:16:44] Scott Maderer: At the beginning we talked a little bit about how you felt that this had been put upon your heart by God, to work in this area of orphans and foster care and youth care as [00:17:00] believers. What do you think is important for folks to hear?

[00:17:04] If they're looking to maybe that's not the thing that's put on their heart, but something is, and if they really trying to live that out in the way that God has purposed them to do, what are some of the things that you would tell them to focus.

[00:17:17] Miriam Cobb: Yeah, I think start in the Bible, start with prayer, start by bringing all of those things that are being on your heart that are tugging on your heart to God, with the willingness to actually do something.

[00:17:30] And it's scary. I'm like that's. That's like a bold ask of God to say, Hey, you're telling me something, I hear you, but I don't know what it is. God answers. And it's crazy, but that's where I would start. I think that when we get into the word, we see really clearly that there's a consistent narrative about orphans, widows, and displaced being the job of the church to care for from the old Testament to the new test.

[00:17:53] All the way through and we get to the new Testament and it's evident in the old Testament that we're all called to [00:18:00] do something as individuals like you hear about each individual person and they get to the new Testament and we're like, it works together. It wasn't just the one person who was the prophet or one person who was supposed to be the one who gives it's everybody working together as the body of Christ.

[00:18:14] So the more time we spend in God's word and listen for him there, I think the more in tune we are as we're praying. To hear what he's telling us as individuals.

[00:18:24] Scott Maderer: So I guess the other question that I would ask is when folks are you mentioned the photography book and bringing out the story of folks that are participating in.

[00:18:39] The system, air quotes around the system. People can't see, but I'm putting air quotes around. So if folks are participating in whether it's foster care or whether it's other social justice organizations why is it important that we develop and find ways to allow [00:19:00] them to tell their stories and control the narrative as opposed to putting it on them?

[00:19:04] Miriam Cobb: I think the biggest piece that makes it important to invite people who receive services into the conversation is that they know what they really need. We can find ourselves solving problems that don't really exist if we just start off with statistics and then try to solve it. An example for us was the idea of college.

[00:19:23] There are really low college graduation rates among youth leaving foster care. And when you see that you might be thinking, Hey, it's money. It's where they're living. It's something like that. But when, in reality, when we talked to the people involved, both the social workers and the youth coming out of foster care, we find out the state pays for a lot of their college.

[00:19:43] The problem tends to be more, they aged out before they finished high school. They weren't able to stay in their foster home, past their high school graduation or that they can't deal with conflict. That was the thing that they were telling us. I'm like, it's more than conflict. It's talking with people being comfortable [00:20:00] talking to the professor about what you're struggling with, those types of things, but it made it to where roommate

[00:20:05] Scott Maderer: issues or even a college, you get there's conflicts.

[00:20:09] Miriam Cobb: And like it's easy ones in theory, but if you're still in that like fight or flight feeling, or if you just don't know where the other person's coming from, because of all the other situations you've been through it's really intimidating. And so if you fall, if you drop out of college after a semester or two, it's a lot harder to get back in when you don't have a support system saying, Hey, yeah, you can crash here for a few months before you go back or.

[00:20:35] The state will stop funding. If you dropped out one year there's conditions to everything. And so maybe a scholarship, isn't what they need. It's a great if you want to offer it, but it's already provided for, but the ultimate obstacle for them leaving the ultimate obstacle that they were facing when they were in college.

[00:20:52] Wasn't the money. Most of the time. And we see the same, like concept playing out at homeless [00:21:00] organizations and trafficking and addiction services where we're like, I see a problem and I'm going to solve it. It's like this. This isn't the solution to the problem that, and that's what led to these things being in place is people thinking that those are the problems and they solved the piece of it.

[00:21:16] It's just not the full picture. It's not why we still see those rates. I think the other piece is just being compassionate that we are at this moment, someone who is able to help, but we all have times when we are the ones who are receiving help. And do we want to be people who live the way. That we feel we would want to be treated.

[00:21:38] Are we giving people a voice? Are we letting them tell their own story? Or are we exploiting their stories in a way by saying, this is the sad sob story. This is all the problems give money so we can solve it the way that we see fit. Or are we telling people, Hey, we love you. We care about you. And we want to help you get to where you want to go as a person and where you feel [00:22:00] God is calling you

[00:22:01] Scott Maderer: so well.

[00:22:02] And I think that's. I've been, I've done a lot of work in and various care organizations. And the most success I've ever seen is when an organization actually truly respectfully partners with the people that they are serving, as opposed to. We have, I, and I'll give an example there. I know of a care organization that originally their thought was there was a place, people needed clothing.

[00:22:28] They were going to bring in a bunch of clothing. And then they realized that what was happening is they were displacing in this community. There were people that made clothing. They suddenly were displacing their livelihood because all of this free clothing was coming in. It wasn't really a, there was no clothing.

[00:22:47] The way the system was set up, wasn't working. And so instead by partnering with the people that were the people, making the clothing and helping them scale up and grow and do it in a more efficient [00:23:00] manner, the community became self-sustaining as an example. And, but again, it's like you said, at first glance, it's oh no clothes solve problem, bring clothes in problem solved.

[00:23:12] But it actually made the overall situation worse instead of better.

[00:23:16] Miriam Cobb: Yeah. And I feel like we were really fortunate as an organization that we saw the example of a lot of people ahead of us through the Christian Alliance for orphans or KFO, that's what they call themselves. There's this huge collection of believing organizations that serve.

[00:23:33] In orphan care settings. And we got to hear similar stories where it's like, Hey, we jumped into quickly or we saw, we tried it didn't work. And here's why. And so I, yeah, I think those stories are really valuable as we work in these fields.

[00:23:49] Scott Maderer: Miriam, one of the questions I like to ask, all of my guests is about stewardship.

[00:23:54] Of course my brand is inspired stewardship. I run my life through that filter. [00:24:00] And yet I've discovered over the years that's a word that means different things to different people. So for you, what does the word stewardship mean? And then what is that meaning? How has that had an impact on your life?

[00:24:11] Miriam Cobb: Yeah, I love that. You ask that question in all of your podcasts. I was listening ahead of time and I was like, that's a great way to keep it all tied. To me, stewardship is caring for what God has given you to the best of your ability and it's everything in your life, your time, your talents, your treasures, your relationships, it's all there to glorify him for however long he allows you to be.

[00:24:31] For me, the verse Psalm 90 12 has been really relevant in the word and just keeps God just keeps adding more to it as we go along. And it's so teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom in the earliest stages. This made me feel the rush and likely imminent. And now. God is teaching me to give the days back to him regardless of the outcome.

[00:24:52] And so learning how to steward my life has been one of the biggest takeaways from this endeavor so far. And it's I'm not great at it. I'm just, [00:25:00] it's a process of learning to give it back to.

[00:25:01] Scott Maderer: Yeah. One of, one of my favorite phrases that I use all the time in coaching is it's a process, not an event.

[00:25:08] You just have to remember, you don't have to get it right. It's not about getting it perfect. It's a process and audit event keep going and I think that's life actually, it's a process, not an event so true. Yeah. Wow. So if. Let's this is my favorite question.

[00:25:27] So let me ask you this. If I invented a machine and I could magically grab you out of the chair where you set today and take you into the future a hundred to 150 years, and through this machine, you were magically able to look back on your whole life and see all of the impacts and all of the ripples that you've left behind.

[00:25:46] What impact do you hope you've had on the way?

[00:25:48] Miriam Cobb: I hope that the Lord would use me to bring people to him and to bring others into deeper relationship with him. I do believe in empty frames initiative, and I know it's what God's called me to. I want it to be successful. And I [00:26:00] believe that he is slowly and steadily rewarding the work we're putting in, but I think that it all goes back to.

[00:26:07] The purpose and the core purpose of everything we're doing is to bring people to him. And so that's what I would like to be able to see that people heard him more than they heard me, so what's coming next for Miriam and the empty frames initiative, as you continue on this journey, what's on the road.

[00:26:26] I'm really excited about the immediate net steps, Lord willing 2022, we will be launching a large capital campaign to help us receive our first facility in Texas and allowing us to share our vision with more people.

[00:26:38] Scott Maderer: You can follow Miriam on Facebook and on Instagram as the empty frames initiative, or

[00:26:46] find

[00:26:46] Scott Maderer: out more about this and other things that are going on over at the website.

[00:26:51] Feeling empty Of course I'll have links to all of these things in the show notes as well. Miriam. Anything else you'd like to share with the [00:27:00] listener?

[00:27:00] Miriam Cobb: You can check out our website at billing, empty and find our books through Amazon or Barnes and noble that the story of foster care.

[00:27:11] Scott Maderer: Thanks so much for listening to the inspired stewardship podcast. As a subscriber and listener, we challenge you to not just sit back and passively listen, but act on what you've heard and find a way to live your calling. If you enjoy this episode please do us a favor. Go over to inspired rate.

[00:27:39] All. ITunes rate, it'll take you through how to leave a rating and review and how to make sure you're subscribed to the podcast so that you can get every episode as it comes out in your feed until next time, invest your time, your talent and your treasures. [00:28:00] Develop your influence and impact the world.

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It just looks different every time because it’s a human system and it’s flawed like we are but in theory when it works well the goal is reunification.  In theory it is for families that are having a hard time. - Miriam Cobb

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Helping people to be better Stewards of God's gifts. Because Stewardship is about more than money.

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