Never Count Them Out
Today is Shadow Day for the Congressional Foster Youth Caucus. The day’s name is self-explanatory and so is the caucus. What is less obvious and less known is just how successful many of America’s foster youth have become. Too often, those outside the immediate experience of the foster care system associate negative feelings of hardship and abandonment toward it.
This year, we are doing things differently.
America’s foster care system still faces enormous challenges from within our biggest cities to our smallest rural towns. Foster youth and the good folks dedicated to the successful fulfillment of the system’s mission will be the first to acknowledge those challenges.
They are also the first to highlight the success stories of fostered individuals who have aged-out to become military service members, small business owners, entrepreneurs, inventors, writers, teachers, moms and dads. Yes, success is everywhere within our foster system. It is factual, full of hope and inspiring.
Today, I will meet a new friend. Her name is Demara’. She and I will spend the day together learning. She will learn about what it means, feels and looks like to serve as a Member of Congress. I will learn and understand how one sees the world after having spent the better part of a life in foster care. Today is a day both of us will remember.
Demara’ and I will zoom back and forth to meetings and hearings. She will go with me to vote on the House floor. We will take pictures and enjoy lunch together with the other foster youth visiting their respective congressional representatives. It will be a full day. While it seems like a litany of good photo and PR ops; it is so much more, for both of us.
This day is about her story and her successes, no matter how seemingly large or small, while in foster care. It is about her dreams and goals. It is also about showcasing her strength and applauding her efforts to advocate for youth still in the system.
I will listen and ask questions. It is my intent to know more about her and what can be done to enhance our foster youth system, especially within the age-out and independent living programs. It is those stages of foster care which are the most vulnerable times. As one advocate for awareness and success of our foster care system, championing solutions and bringing people together makes a marked difference.
I will tell her of my wife, Edie, and I and our long history of assisting and participating in the foster care system in our hometown of Williamsport, PA. I will share stories of all the youth we have seen grow into successful and loving adults, many with families of their own.
More importantly, I look forward to seeing her life’s success. I want to hear her goals of today and see them come to fruition tomorrow. This young woman, despite hardship and disadvantage, can measure up to any degree of success she desires.
Congressional Foster Youth Shadow Day is about connection, compassion, education, awareness and recognition. It is about applauding uncommon strength and championing the goodwill that catapults these young Americans towards their dreams.
This op-ed first appeared in Red Alert Politics on May 20th, 2015, also the 4th annual Congressional Foster Youth Shadow Day.