Learn Brian’s Story

05-23-2016“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

This Margaret Mead quote was shared with me by a friend who passed away. I believed it. It created a sense of hope for change for me and pushed me towards finding and joining a community full of purpose where I could make a difference. For me, Congressional Foster Youth Shadow Day was that hope and community made real.

I’ve always had a sense of purpose for my life, yet I couldn’t figure out exactly where I should focus or where I should direct my energy. I am a foster youth from Scranton, PA. That was it.

Very early on, I realized there wasn’t much expected of me from others, but I couldn’t accept that. This country is founded on the ideal of equality and equal opportunity, yet the statistics I saw for foster care youth proved the playing field was far from level.

Growing up and as a young adult, I constantly struggled with my self-worth, yet never lost the hope that one day I would be someone who would make a difference. That difference came last year, when I received an acceptance email stating that I would be going to Washington, DC and Members of Congress would hear my voice. It seemed too good to be true. But, it wasn’t.

I am a firm believer that expertise gained through hearing first-hand experiences is most important to developing effective solutions, and I believe that’s why Shadow Day is so important to me and to the millions of foster youth around the country who participate. Who better to advocate for foster care besides the foster youth who live through it?

The collaborative efforts by organizations who host Shadow Day provided me with an opportunity to join the collective voice for an improved and more effective child welfare system.

During my experience with Shadow Day, I told one of the Members of Congress about my experience in care and discussed relevant issues with him that affected my life and continue to impact the lives of foster youth across the country. Last year, fifty nine other former foster youth joined me in doing the same with their representatives. That day, our voices were heard and our stories made an impact.

After that experience, I left Washington, DC with something I didn’t arrive with; urgency and passion to continue to tell my story and shape the narrative around foster care and foster youth using the voices of those from within my community. My involvement in Shadow Day empowered me. It allowed me to lend a voice towards improving the foster care system that has helped make me who I am today.

In addition, the experience I had at Shadow Day helped me secure a position at Rutgers, because after that day, I saw myself differently. After Shadow Day, I believed I was worthy of being heard and being involved with reforming New Jersey’s adolescent care system. I learned tools that help me more effectively share my experience of childhood trauma. I also learned how to advocate on the importance of others understanding how to use a trauma-informed approach in developing policies and programs within our state adolescent care system.

The organizations who created this opportunity have also kept in touch with me. I am now a proud member of the National Foster Care Youth & Alumni Policy Council. The value I gleaned from those three days with the Shadow Day experience last year is invaluable to my path in life, and I will always be grateful.

I will forever be honored to have been chosen to participate in Shadow Day. I encourage all former foster youth to apply and to realize that their voices are as powerful as they want them to be.

There’s another Margaret Mead quote, that I now firmly stand by, ”Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else.”