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Life is full of challenges, and our characters are defined by what we do with what we’ve got. For most people, the burden of these challenges is made lighter by the love and support of a family structure—be that biological or otherwise. For Vanessa Jackson the path presented some of life’s biggest challenges, all at the same time. When Venessa was 12 years old, a child herself, she gave birth to her son. That same year, she entered the foster system. From there forward, Vanessa became both a recipient and a provider of life’s most fundamental needs: food, shelter, love and support. Until Vanessa aged out of foster care at the age of 18, Montgomery County Children Services saw that Vanessa and her son were able to share the same foster care placements and maintain their parent-child relationship. Together, they grew up. Despite monumental obstacles, Vanessa has never allowed the challenge of her situation to keep her from pressing forward to build a bright future for herself and her son. Instead, her first-hand experience has prompted her to seek out any and all available resources. This includes housing options for single parents on the college campuses where she completed her LPN and where she continues to pursue her Bachelor’s degree in nursing. Vanessa also extends her sensitivity and care for others to leadership roles including co-presenting Independent Living trainings for Montgomery County foster care youth and serving on the Montgomery County VISION Board. She is a founding member of the Ohio Youth Advisory Board, and acts as the first Ohio YAB Secretary. Vanessa has also served as President of the Southwest Regional Youth Advisory Board, and the seeds of her ongoing efforts are currently coming to fruition as Greene County works to create a county Youth Advisory Board. When asked, Vanessa speaks highly of her time in the foster care system. But her words are validated two-fold in her decision to invest herself in training presentations for foster parents. Vanessa has also been a guest lecturer on topics related to foster care, sharing her insights in a judicial teleconference hosted by the Ohio Supreme Court, and presenting as part of a Youth Panel during Ohio’s first Ohio Reach Summit and a statewide Ohio Child Welfare Training Program conference. Vanessa’s most recent statewide presentation was during the 2011 Ohio Partnership Forum on Housing Options for Transition Age Youth. During this event, Vanessa clearly articulated the need for increased housing options for young people transitioning from foster care to adulthood. If there’s anything else that could punctuate the truths about Vanessa Jackson it is how utterly valuable she is—both in her communities and to the larger foster care system. Instead of allowing challenges to define her life negatively, she has redefined her self by them in the most positive ways possible.

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