Oregon was the first conference the 2009 fosterclub all-stars facilitated, and it was a humbling experience. I learned so much from all the youth, and I appreciated their willingness to help us newbies out. I was a tribal leader, and my youth settled on the group name of The Fighting Mongoose. (Yeah, obviously my tribe was super hilarious with a name like that!) We had tons of laughs, covering one of my tribal members in pasta and gumdrops during a session called lines and dots, and making protective cases for eggs out of straws and Popsicle sticks during the egg drop activity.
I co-presented a workshop called Foster to Famous in front of 150 people (eek!), which I was really nervous about, but I think went fine. Two of my fellow ’09 all-stars and I also lead two smaller sessions of a workshop called “It’s Relative” which deals with bio family and how to deal with those relationships in a safe and healthy way. The session requires some role-playing, and it was amazing to me how open the youth were about adding their experiences to the activity. I left that workshop much wiser to the experiences of others than I began it.
Some of the attendees weren’t much younger than me, and I was impressed by their bravery to share their most vulnerable moments with a room full of strangers. They made me feel so comfortable around them, and I loved how we could discuss serious close to home issues while still having fun. As if all of that hadn’t been enough, I would have to say that by far the most amazing part of the conference (and the highlight of this internship in general thus far) for me was the postcard project.
The postcard project and it’s impact on me deserves it’s own blog. I went into this activity nieve. I was expecting a little craft project, something light and fun. It was right up my ally as an art major to play with markers and stickers, so I volunteered right away without thinking twice. The postcard project had never been done at a youth conference before, so none of us knew what to expect. I got to the activity and the youth were shown a few examples of past postcards created by foster care alumni making a statement about their experience in care.
If you’ve ever seen or heard of the website postsecret, this activity was similar, except it is sponsored by the organization Foster Fare Alumni of America and all the postcards have to do with experiences youth have in the system. After being shown the examples, we all went to work on our little 4x6 masterpieces. I was so consumed by my own postcard that I wasn’t really paying attention to what those around me were doing. At the end we collected all the postcards, and placed them in a pile.
We asked the youth if they felt comfortable with us spreading them out, allowing us to share our secrets with one another. No one objected. When we spread them out, I was unprepared for what I saw. These were not trivial statements. They were deep, impactful secrets so raw I felt them to my core. We spread them across the tabletop, a menagerie of stories. A crazy quilt made of common threads. I felt so connected to these youth.
These were just the secrets of the maybe 12 youth in the room. I thought to myself, what about if we had done this for everyone at the conference? What if we had done this for everyone ever in care? I thought about how similar our stories were, and how these really were my brothers and sisters because of the bond we had through the foster care system. I felt so unified. Like I saw them, and I was comfortable letting them see me—who I was before and who I was growing up to be. I saw myself at fourteen in one of those youth’s secrets; and it killed me. Their art looked just like mine at fourteen- crying eyes and scars.
I thought about where I was at fourteen—depressed, suffering, and not sure if I wanted to make it to fifteen. I was so sick of my circumstances that I was willing to do anything to escape them. I made it to fifteen, though. And it was so worth it to stick it out. It would’ve been a shame for me to miss all the amazingness that is my life currently. I never would’ve thought I could be this happy, or my life could be this fulfilled. I wanted to say that to the creator of this secret. To hug her and say, “I was you six years ago. Stick it out. It really will get better.
Don’t miss the good stuff.” Instead I cried. Really hard. I cried for who I was; how painful it was to be fourteen and feel so misunderstood and broken and alone. I cried because I needed someone to save me at fourteen, and even though I didn’t have that, maybe I can be that savior for someone else now. I cried for the amazing opportunities I’ve been allowed and the beautiful burden and responsibility that comes along with being given a voice. I really have a heart for people, and I just want to do them justice.
The postcard project changed how I interact with everyone, and it reminded me that you never know where people are at in their journey and you can’t underestimate the impact you may have. I want to be someone who lifts others up, not the last straw weighing them down. I think about what I needed to hear at fourteen and now I’m learning how to say it. Life is awe-inspiring. Greta