How Ascending Flow Is Helping Former Foster Youths Thrive Through Music and Art

“A lot of times, healing comes not through traditional therapy, but through art or exercise.”

Before aging out of the foster care system at 18, Brayden Boyce lived in 17 different homes. The trauma and stress he endured over those years took its toll on his mental health.

Now, at 19, Boyce is a participant in a program called New Narrative, a local nonprofit mental health organization that helps youths who are aging out of the foster care system—and encompasses Ascending Flow, a mentorship wing of the program that helps participants express themselves through music and art.

“A lot of times, healing comes not through traditional therapy, but through art or exercise,” says New Narrative CEO Julie Ibrahim. “So we adapt to what each person needs.” That adaptation translates to every aspect of the program.

The first priority is to get participants housed. In fact, New Narrative guarantees each participant graduates from the program with a clean renter’s record, which it does by providing guidance, along with multiple chances in case a participant slips up.

Without a typical familial support system to help navigate real-world experiences like applying for housing, paying the bills, and maintaining good standing with a landlord, a lot of former foster youths end up on the streets.

“Sometimes participants arrive to the program and don’t really know what their goals are. So we’re there gently walking alongside them until they figure it out,” Ibrahim says. “A lot of the participants who come here are very institution weary and treatment weary.”

With that in mind, the program is designed to be as individualized as possible, and whether or not participants choose to work with a therapist is up to them. In what the organization calls person-led action plans, each youth in the program gets to decide what their independence will look like.

Before New Narrative, Boyce tells WW, “I really didn’t have people taking care of me. Now, to be able to maintain a full-time job and things I would’ve never had before has provided an opportunity for me to really work on myself.”

Once housing is secured, New Narrative helps participants find and maintain full-time work, apply for food stamps, navigate their health care, set up therapy services and, for those who are interested, explore artistic expression. That’s where Ascending Flow comes in.

Co-founded by hip-hop artist Talilo Marfil and his partner Thy Tran, Ascending Flow provides a much-needed opportunity for creativity amid what can otherwise be an overwhelming experience.

“It’s brave to be vulnerable,” Marfil says. As a formerly incarcerated person, he knows firsthand what a lot of the people in the program are going through. “There are a lot of struggles that come from being in the system,” he says. “We want these youth to have a shot at a successful transition into adulthood.”

At Ascending Flow, that transition is eased through the nurturing of artists. Stop by and you will see mural-covered walls or hear someone strumming on a guitar (Boyce is currently taking lessons). It’s all part of the motto at Ascending Flow, which echoes a traditional recovery mindset: one flow at a time.