Ozzie Calhoun is a 24-year-old who moved into a three-bedroom home in Hoffman Estates three years ago.
He works from home in real estate. He speaks confidently about how to solve the subprime mortgage crisis. Every so often he reaches into his pocket to check his phone. He's expecting an important business call.
Calhoun knows he's different. And he's isn't shy about the reason. He's one of the featured spokesmen in a campaign to boost the public's perception of foster children. Calhoun's face is featured on posters and literature. He's trying to figure out how to post Web footage of a TV commercial he taped.
As a former foster child, he knows how the system works and wants to encourage potential foster parents to get involved.
"Growing up, I know people just think of it as a bad thing," Calhoun said. "It's not really a kid's fault. Foster care is about giving a kid an opportunity to have a normal life."
Michelle Arnold is with Voice for Illinois Children, which is behind the "Foster Kids Are Our Kids" campaign that launched this month. One of the themes is "I'm Doing Good," which in Calhoun's case rings true. After he graduated from Maine East High School, the Department of Family and Services stepped up and helped pay for tuition at Lincoln College and Oakton Community College.
Arnold noted that Illinois' foster care system works with many local agencies like Shelter Inc. in Arlington Heights and Alliance Human Services in Schaumburg.
Calhoun wanted to participate in the public awareness campaign because he doesn't want to see doors slammed in the faces of foster kids solely based on negative stereotypes. For many children, foster care means a new chance - no matter how difficult an adjustment it can be.
"It was really hard, a lot of crying, a lot of, not hate, but anger at first," Calhoun said.
But through the love of support of his foster parents and family he's flourished even though he's moved from Evanston to Des Plaines to Hoffman Estates.
"I fell in love with the suburbs," he said.
Calhoun, who never knew his father, was first taken out of his mother's care and placed with this grandmother in the same house where he grew up. At 9, he was placed with a woman in Des Plaines. The woman, whom Calhoun calls his "aunt," would made sure he made it to downtown Chicago every day so he could practice gymnastics as a member of the famed Jesse White Tumblers. Braving the traffic was one example of the love and care Calhoun feels he received in foster care.
"My foster mom stepped up and made that possible," he said.
A friend recently approached him and asked why Calhoun would so willingly admit that he was a foster kid and allow his face to be on posters. Calhoun told him he's proud. It's the type of thing he would tell a girl on a first date.
He's also mended fences. His family was to spend Thanksgiving Day at his home for the first time. He once lived with roommates who decorated the place with posters from the movie "Scarface." Now Calhoun lives with his sister, her husband and their three children, and Calhoun likes to spend time playing video games with his nephew.
Calhoun also visits his foster mother and her six foster children, embracing his role as a big brother.
For more about the program visit fosterkidsareourkids.org or call (888)-4-R-KIDS2.