Shared Humanity: A Former Foster Youth’s Reflections on Learning & Celebrating to Lift our Voices
On Saturday, May 6th, I had the honor of attending NFYI’s 2023 Afternoon of Learning & Celebration. The event was in honor of national poverty and child welfare expert and advocate David Ambroz, who received the 2023 Champion for Youth and Children Award. The event also served as a way to celebrate the National Foster Youth Institute’s work to create better outcomes for those impacted by the foster care system.
I was compelled to attend the fundraiser, as May is National Foster Care Month and Mental Health Awareness Month. I am a former foster youth and have been fortunate enough to meet others who have been involved with NFYI’s initiatives over the years. It was only in 2023 that I became familiar with NFYI, which prompted me to reach out to the team. I was keen on attending NFYI’s 2023 Afternoon of Learning & Celebration because I believe in the importance of advocating for the needs of youth in foster care, and this event provided a valuable opportunity to learn about current issues and celebrate the accomplishments of those working towards positive change.
The afternoon was one of celebration and joy. The event was hosted by an NFYI board member in the Brentwood neighborhood of Los Angeles, giving us a breathtaking view of the city under the beautiful sunshine. I was all the more excited because the Bay Area had experienced pouring rain the past week, which gave a much needed reprieve from the inclement weather. People filed onto the grass, which was filled with beautiful flowers atop tables for each guest. Poster boards were around the yard, showcasing NFYI’s mission and values. #FosterYouthVoices was the marker for attendees to use as they posed and posted pictures online.
The bar area offered bubbles and bites, of which I enjoyed sparkling lemonade and zucchini fritters. Everyone was super friendly, starting conversations with each other as we prepared for the big day. The energy shifted, as I heard someone say, “the Mayor is about to be here.” Shortly after, in walked The Honorable Karen Bass, Mayor of Los Angeles and Founder of NFYI, in a blue suit, almost as bright as her smile. She was sure to greet the attendees with a gracious embrace, as her team ushered her through the crowd. I introduced myself, doing my best not to fangirl too hard; spoiler – I totally did!
Mayor Bass and Opal smile for a selfie
Once everyone was settled in their seats, we were welcomed by Dr. Wendy Smith Meyer, NFYI Board Chair and her husband Barry Meyer. They explained how honored they were to host us, especially as we came out of the pandemic, having had this event take place virtually the past few years. Barry had the crowd laughing, as we realized that the celebration was taking place on the same day as the Coronation of His Majesty The King at Westminster Abbey. Elizabeth Vargas, Host of “iCrime,” and NewsNation’s “Elizabeth Vargas Reports,” was our lovely emcee, as she graced the stage to introduce the rest of the afternoon’s happenings. Her introduction was followed by remarks from NFYI’s Executive Director, Rebecca Louve Yao and the NFYI’s Advocates of the Year Recognition by Representative Sydney Kamlager-Dove.
Throughout the afternoon, there was a sense of camaraderie and unity among the attendees. We were all there for the same purpose, to support a good cause and show our commitment to improving the lives of those currently in foster care. It was inspiring to see so many people come together and give back to the community.
NFYI’s 2022’s advocates, Joseph Mariscal, Tasha Snowden, Michael Davis-Thomas, and Anthony Vizcarrondo gave their respective heartfelt recount of the ways NFYI has impacted them, sharing their personal stories and experiences that highlighted the strength and resilience of young people in the face of adversity. Many of the award recipients shared their personal stories and experiences, expressing gratitude for the support and resources that have helped them overcome obstacles and achieve success. Their words were a testament to the power of perseverance, hope, and community, and left a lasting impact on those in attendance.
NFYI’s 2022’s advocates, Joseph Mariscal, Tasha Snowden, Anthony Vizcarrondo and Michael Davis-Thomas
Mayor Bass took the stage to present the NFYI 2023 Champion for Youth and Children Award to David Ambroz, author of his life story in a memoir, A Place Called Home. Before David began his speech, he asked the audience, “stand up if you’ve ever been in foster care before.” I was joined by a handful of audience members who affirmed who this work is being done for. I was seated next to some friendly people who were just as passionate about foster care reform as I am, and I felt proud to represent all those for whom the day was in honor.
Openly identifying as a “former foster youth” is something that I only recently started to do. As stated throughout the afternoon, growing up in foster care is a challenge for many reasons. Attendees heard personal experiences of the effects of multiple placements, separation from siblings and family, and a lack of stability and consistency in their lives. Because of this, many of us have been led to feelings of isolation, low self-esteem, and difficulty forming trusting relationships. On the contrary, knowing that organizations such as NFYI have a specific goal of working for those in care and also transitioning out of care. The demographic of these emancipated young adults from ages 18-30, which I fit into, are often left out of the larger conversation at hand.
David’s heartfelt speech at the event was deeply moving and inspirational, as he pointed out these issues. David’s personal experiences of being in foster care and experiencing homelessness, all before the age of 12 is unfortunately not uncommon. His story highlighted the urgent need for advocacy and reform to improve the lives of children and youth in foster care, and emphasized the importance of community support and resources. One of the things that stood out to me was when he mentioned the demographic of adults 18-30, many of whom are college age, that end up becoming homeless.
David Ambroz, Mayor Bass, Elizabeth Vargas and Joseph Mariscal
Mayor Bass zeroed in on her initiative to counter homelessness, which 1 in 3 former foster youth experience. David’s genuine passion and dedication to making a difference in the lives of those in need was palpable, and left a lasting impact on the audience. Overall, his statements were a powerful call to action to work towards a better future for those in foster care, transitioning into adulthood and homelessness.
Being a present day advocate for foster care youth is incredibly fulfilling because it allows us as former foster youth to use our personal experiences to make a positive impact on the lives of others. I’m now realizing that there is beauty that can be found in the struggle; not to trivialize or take away the serious elements from the things that I experienced, but rather, utilize my own learnings to assure that others can see that there’s hope.
Advocates like David, Mayor Bass and others dedicate their lives to help to ensure that children and adults who have experiences with foster care receive the support and resources they need to thrive. By advocating for change and raising awareness about the challenges faced by foster care youth, advocates can help to improve outcomes for these vulnerable children and youth. This harkens to the notion of for us, by us, which is important when it comes to talking about foster care because our voices are the ones that are most needed when it comes to policy and reform in the system. We are the experts.
NFYI provides opportunities for former foster youth through the Congressional Leadership Academy which bridges the gap between policy makers, members of Congress and current & former foster youth through Shadow Day. This investment in the lives of young people with lived child welfare experiences is a unique opportunity that I, frankly, have never seen before. Tasha Snowden, a 2022 NFYI Advocate of the Year who was one of the event speakers, reflected on her eye-opening and rewarding experiences meeting Congressmembers and delegates by having a seat at the very table(s) that policies about us (foster youth, respectively) are being made. These ongoing connections and networking opportunities are akin to the importance of “for us, by us” when it comes to the legislative process and policies related to foster care reformation.
Opal and David pose with his NFYI 2023 Award
As I reflect on my experience at NFYI’s 2023 Afternoon of Learning & Celebration, I am filled with inspiration to continue sharing my story and the narratives of others in the foster care ecosystem. The afternoon provided a powerful platform to learn, collaborate, and celebrate the accomplishments of those working towards positive change for youth in foster care and to commend those of us who have survived the system. Each speech, panel and the subsequent awards ceremony were all deeply moving and left a lasting impression on me.
Being in a space with policy makers, representatives, former foster youth and others who advocate for us was extremely motivating. I now have a much better understanding of the role that Congress plays in child welfare policy and how leaders such as Mayor Bass and organizations like are on the frontlines of this.
I am more motivated than ever to continue advocating for the needs of youth in foster care, and to work towards shifting the statistics that affect us. This experience has prompted me to look into the ways that Bay Area and Northern Californian policy makers are advocating for foster youth and how I can be a part of making a positive impact on the lives of those in foster care and beyond.
This reflection was written by Opal Franklin (@StoryNoir), a foster youth advocate and doula based in Oakland, CA. Opal is a former foster youth turned transracial adoptee and writes & speaks about her own experiences around the needed changes in the system. She is dedicated to raising awareness and advocating for the needs of youth in care as they transition to college and beyond.