This year, 2018, I was chosen to attend and represent FosterClub at Daniel Memorial’s 31st Annual National Independent Living Conference in San Antonio, Texas. During my All-Star internship, I had come to recognize Seaside, Oregon as home. It was upsetting to leave, but my choice to make an outstanding change to the lives of foster youth and alumni finally felt real. 8 of us attended the conference in total. 5 other All-Star interns, our level 2 intern, a FosterClub staff member, and myself. This is my experience at the conference.
After over 10 hours of travel, we settled into the hotel for a couple of hours before setting up our outreach booths. One for the National Policy Council, and the other one for FosterClub in general. After setting up, we attended the dessert reception which gave us the opportunity to network with other constituents and introduce ourselves and, more importantly, our cause.
To begin our second day at the conference, my colleague Phoenix and I were up to bat with FosterClub’s first presentation of the conference: SPARK. This concept and presentation had never been seen outside of the FosterClub staff. SPARK is the framework that FosterClub uses to form our trainings and ensure that the FosterClub curriculum is beneficial to current and former foster youth. During this presentation, I found myself going off-script to speak my own truth in a way that related to our cause as an organization. I shared my experience with homelessness, addiction, and how I felt the system had failed me. After I finished speaking, I saw smiles, tears in eyes, and the audience began applauding. They were applauding me, my story, and the training FosterClub gave me that allowed for me to empower crowds. Leaving the presentation, we were approached by many independent living coordinators, coaches, youth, and organizational spokespeople trying to gain as much information as possible about how to become an All-Star.
Following SPARK, I found myself stepping into our Transition Roundtable, taking notes and facilitating discussion around the challenges of youth transitioning into adulthood. One powerful comment I heard was from a member of Alabama’s youth board. She shared,
"The hardest part of transitioning was leaving the friendships I created in care. But, I gained the ability to start my own life and family, with them by my side."
I've been contemplating this and have yet to hear something as accurate or relatable. With the supportive adults observing, but not participating in the discussion, the youth easily opened up about their worries. After presenting challenges to transitioning, my fellow All-Star, Aleea and I asked for solutions to their challenges. We noticed a trend in the solutions we brainstormed; almost all of them required the assistance of a supportive adult. This led conversation to the important of adult permanence in youths’ lives, and continuing that partnership even as they age.
My final presentation at the conference involved Aleea and I joining forces to tackle a highly interactive and important workshop, not only to me and our All-Stars, but youth all over the country. We presented on FosterClub's #FosterEquality campaign; a campaign aimed at ensuring safety and equality for LGBTQ+ foster youth. Is America truly free if two people who love each other can’t save a foster child’s life because of their sexual orientation? It is puzzling to think about. The Aderholt Amendment, which was luckily not passed, would have allowed for this to become the federal standard. We spoke for nearly two hours as a united voice about the issues facing LGBTQ+ youth in care. We discussed higher training standards in organizations, and heard different stories about injustice that current youth were facing. I was no longer just a facilitator, but a trusted ally.
Over these three days, I connected with hundreds of youth and supporters, and built professional and personal connections nationwide. Listening to others, I found myself being drawn further towards advocacy, and finding my true potential as an advocate. Although it's over, I can safely say I won't be losing contact with anyone I've met, whether it be my fellow All-Stars who I watched grow into professional perfectionists, or with contacts from fellow organizations.