Nathan Gawlik spent 17 years in North Dakota's Foster Care System.
A former foster child and current student at University of North Dakota, Nathan Gawlik is a young man who demonstrates exceptional initiative and commitment to bettering the lives of youth in foster care. He is an active member of two youth boards: the Chafee Independent Living Youth Leadership Board in North Dakota and 4NDYouth, the local leadership group where he resides. He also serves as the co-chair of the Resource & Development Committee on the Youth Move National Board of Directors. Through these two groups he is continually motivating younger members to raise their voices and help others understand the unique challenges foster youth face. Very recently a University of North Dakota student group designed, developed and implemented a “Tunnel of Oppression.” Within this tunnel of rooms the students strove to increase community awareness of a variety of topics including mental health, rape, bullying, economic diversities and race/gender inequities. Nate saw this as a perfect opportunity to educate others about foster care and the associated stigmas. Before having students enter his room, Nate had them put their coats, shoes, backpacks, books and other personal belongings into a trash bag to carry with them as they watched a powerful slide show set to a song Nate wrote entitled “Broken and Beautiful.” Nate makes time in his schedule to visit with a variety of classes in a number of departments on the University of North Dakota campus to share his story and encouraged others to get involved and raise their voices. He spearheaded a campaign to order wristbands to raise awareness of ND Youth and their mission to make transitioning out of care a more positive experience for foster youth and has spoken to foster parent support groups, foster care agencies, as well as at conferences within the state of North Dakota. Just recently he received in invitation to speak at a conference in Toronto, Canada occurring in the fall of 2011. Nate has big plans to improve the system. He and another young man who was adopted from foster care at a young age share a dream of creating an open communication network where foster/adoptive and potential foster/potential adoptive families can share their experiences. Within 5 years they hope to be on a state wide level and have both youth and adult speakers. Their first step is to hold the first annual Brighter Future (Youth Awareness Picnic) this summer. Together they have contacted numerous agencies pitching their idea for some financial support but primarily just for support of their mission. They have already held their first public meeting (with approximately 40 people in attendance) and have spoken to groups all across Grand Forks, ND. Nate spent 17 years in foster care and had to go through over seven placements before entering and remaining in kinship care with his sister. He stayed in care while attending the University of North Dakota until formally exiting the foster care system on his 21st birthday. Now a successful, independent twenty-two year old, Nate is pursuing his Bachelor’s Degree in Mass communication at the University of North Dakota. After graduation, his goal is to use his degree to continue to work as an advocate for foster youth across the U.S. He has the experience, the brains, the initiative, and the passion… I’d say he’s well on his way to making his dream a reality.