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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: We are an actress and a basketball player writing to you to ask your help in lighting a lamp of inspiration for the 600,000 children currently living in foster care.

May is National Foster Care Awareness Month, and we would like former foster children to join us in sharing their personal stories.

We both grew up in the foster care system. Being a foster child can be a painful and isolating experience, leaving many children without direction and purpose in their lives. We acknowledge that many foster children have experienced shame and felt "unattached" -- with no real sense of belonging to a family or community. Yet, we know firsthand that as painful as it is for children to live without their parents, foster care can also be the best thing for a child in harm's way. It was for us.

We were blessed to receive support and commitment from dedicated foster parents and mentors who believed we could fulfill our greatest dreams. And both of us, as well as thousands of other foster children, have gone on to lead successful and productive lives.

We believe that the skills and life lessons learned by former foster children can serve to light the way for those now in foster care. They can inspire current foster families and social workers by reminding them of the enormous difference their dedication makes, and encourage other caring individuals to become foster parents.

By sharing our personal stories, we can bring a world of promise to children in foster care, and provide them with clear examples of how they can live their lives to the fullest, and in doing so, enrich the lives of others. It is a legacy that all of us who have been in foster care must leave for our children and the future. -- VICTORIA ROWELL AND ALONZO MOURNING, NATIONAL SPOKESPERSONS FOR FOSTER CARE

DEAR VICTORIA AND ALONZO: You are living proof that with consistent mentoring, and with caring foster parents with an abundance of patience, foster children can succeed. For them to achieve, strong role models are essential because children absorb what they see around them.

That is why I am joining you in asking other successful former foster children to take pen in hand and share their stories. What was it that worked for you? What fortified you when times were difficult? Your personal experiences can bolster and enlighten current foster parents, inspire new ones and improve the foster care system. I know I can count on you. My readers are the most generous people in the world when it comes to giving of themselves.

Please address your letters to: Casey Family Services, 1 Corporate Drive, Shelton, CT 06484. The toll-free number is 1-888-799-KIDS (5437). The e-mail address is: dearabbyresponse@rowellfosterchildren.org. They're waiting to hear from you.

DEAR ABBY: I have been with the same man for 17 years. I would like to get married, but he is not saying anything. What should I do? -- STILL SINGLE IN NEWARK, N.J.

DEAR STILL SINGLE: You have been incredibly patient to have waited this long for a proposal of marriage. Tell him it's time the two of you tied the knot. If he gives you an argument, perhaps it's time for you to consider whether you're better off with him or without him.

Dear Abby is written by Pauline Phillips and daughter Jeanne Phillips.

For everything you need to know about wedding planning, order "How to Have a Lovely Wedding." Send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, Wedding Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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