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Ashley Gallardo spent 7 years in Texas's Foster Care System
Ashley was in foster care from the age of eleven until she aged out at eighteen. Now that she is older, she is completely and wholly dedicated to using her experiences and advocating on behalf of foster youth. “I believe I experienced what I did for a reason, and that reason is to make a difference for others,” Ashley says. “I bring my knowledge and experience to everything I do to better the system in all of my work, volunteering, etc.” Ashley is a member of her local youth board and is the Region Chair for the Foster Care Alumni of America group Texas Chapter. As the Region Chair, she is called upon to speak on their CASA Transitioning Youth Panels and FCAA workshops. She also volunteers with CASA’s state and local programs, Austin Children's Shelter, the Ready by 21 Sub Committee, Casey Family Services, Texas Foster Youth Justice Project, the Citizens Commission on Human Rights, and other organizations. Ashley’s job with Cenpatico Behavior Health (STAR Health) allows her to continue working on behalf foster youth. As the Consumer Advocate, Ashley helps foster youth activate their after-care services, finds resources for items they may need, locates transition centers that can provide further assistance, assists alumni in keeping their information updated so they don’t lose their state health coverage, and attends various meetings with the company’s CEOs, other foster care agencies, DFPS, etc. Because of her own involvement with foster care, Ashley often finds she is the only person that most of the youth will talk to. She understands that the youth she is meeting with are often acting out because they feel scared and unprepared to live independently. Ashley says, “Being a teenager is hard enough, but being a teenager in the foster care system is overwhelming. It’s nice to be able to know there is one place where they believe in you, where they come along side and create a path to your potential, where unconditional love, support, encouragement, and yes, even structure are the foundation for hope.” When she isn’t volunteering or working, Ashley is a student at Austin Community College pursuing a career as a paralegal. Her main academic focus is to graduate college, go to Law school, and become a lawyer. She wants to use her degree to continue working with foster youth, CASA, and a local program called The Texas Foster Youth Justice Project. Ashley’s favorite free-time activity is reading. Despite having to go through a series of undoubtedly difficult situations, she manages to stay positive and make the best it. “I attempt everyday to be a better person, to make sure I am giving 100% to everything I do for my foster care related work,” says Ashley. “I believe I experienced what I did for a reason, and that reason is to make a difference for others.”