Disconnected, Unprepared. De-Valued. I could feel these emotions as a young man I was mentoring stood on the sidewalk in Downtown Fort Worth, with everything he owned in his backpack and a resigned look on his face. It was 1PM in the afternoon, and I had just picked him up from the bus station. He had been stranded about an hour and a half away, and returned to Fort Worth on the bus. As he and I looked for services that would help him get back on his feet, we were met with answering machines and service qualifications that he did not meet. We were also met with a process where he had to interview for a spot in a transitional program, just to be told that he was denied.
In the face of the frustration and disappointment that he was understandably experiencing throughout his journey, I saw the same resilience and potential that I saw in him when we first met. I wish I could say that this was an uncommon journey for the young men that I have mentored over the last several years. Teens and young adults from foster care are often left to navigate through bureaucracy and red-tape to access the same level of social support that is easily accessed by many of their peers who were not in foster care. Even with these obstacles, I have witnessed numerous former foster youth exhibit strength and resilience. On the other hand, these obstacles make other foster youth distraught and left with feelings of hopelessness. Many of them are youth who age out with no family, no support, no driver’s licenses, and limited exposure to basic life skills. After seeing much of the dialogue coming from the foster care community centering around these obstacles, I created Foster Leaders to promote this strength and resilience as another side to the traditional foster care story.
Even though I do not have the same experience “aging-out” of foster care like those I have mentored, I do know what it is like to feel lost, confused, and uncertain about the future. My brother and I spent the first years of our lives in the home of a single mother. I have very little memory of specific events, but I do remember always staying the night in different places and, when the time came for my birth mother to put us into foster care, the caseworkers thought it would be best for us to be separated. This saddened, angered, and frustrated me tremendously. As the distance between us grew to over 2,000 miles, I felt a small hole forming in my heart. Until recently, I didn’t realize my separation from my brother had so much impact on many of the good and bad choices I have made throughout my life.
Just like the young adults from foster care who inspire me today, my brother showed great strength and resilience in the face of obstacles beyond his control, and is the reason I became involved in foster youth advocacy. Also mirroring my mentoring experiences, I was able to navigate my own adversity because I was connected with genuine love and support. That love and support came when I was blessed with a family who adopted me when I was almost 6 years old. Even though my family provided me with a loving home and access to opportunities to thrive, I often felt sad about not having my brother involved in some of the more memorable moments. Fortunately, my parents understood how much I missed my brother, and helped me stay in contact with him through letters and phone calls. During the moments where I missed him the most, I would ask myself questions like, “What would life be like if it was me who had the cerebral palsy and epilepsy, and not my brother?” or “What would life be like if I had not gotten adopted by such loving parents?” and “What would life be like if our birth mother had kept us in the unstable situation we were in?” Every time, these questions led back to one common conclusion. That conclusion was that although God may not have caused all of this to happen, He allowed it to happen to work for His good, and it would be a waste if I did not answer the call to use my life experiences to serve others.
Foster Leaders has been my answer to this call since January of 2014. I would like to close this discussion of my journey by thanking all of those who have made Foster Leaders possible: My wife, Lindsay, who has been supportive beyond all expectation. My brother, Christopher, who is the inspiration behind Foster Leaders. My family, who saved me from becoming another statistic. My fellow advocates, who fight for foster youth empowerment on a daily basis. Families, Professionals, and others who work tirelessly to become that one positive person in the lives of foster youth. Last but not least, my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who directs my hands and feet, and gives me unconditional grace, mercy, and love.