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November is National Homeless Youth Awareness Month. Youth who do not have stable housing face unique challenges and opportunities along their education path. During this month, we will feature stories of local community partners who are working to support youth experiencing homelessness, offering information to deepen understanding about youth homelessness and identifying ways we can all support these students.
Growing up in foster care is not the ideal way the average high school student would see for themselves. Sometimes you are dealt a bad hand but you have to learn to strive to overcome obstacles and barriers that others may not face.
After I transitioned out of the child welfare system I enrolled into IUPUI. As an incoming freshman I had no idea of what to expect, I felt like I didn’t belong, and felt alone. Having a mentor even as early as high school can impact the outcomes of foster youth in high school and post education. It’s beneficial for foster youth to have a “go-to” person to discuss challenging situations. It does a lot to having someone who has been through the things you may be currently going through to share their experiences and learn from their mistakes.
While working with my mentor I immediately made sure I got involved with organizations on campus and I made sure to establish a name for myself. I have grown to learn the most important thing is to make sure you are creating relationships with people who are willing to help you reach your goals. It is imperative for foster youth to make connections prior to and after they have transitioned out so when they are living independently, they have a strong foundation of people they have as a support system.
There are resources set in place specifically for foster youth, but youth do not utilize them because they are unaware they are there. They should be connected to those resources. I am part of Connected by 25 Indiana Youth Advisory Board (IYAB), and we strive to help change policies, empower youth to advocate for themselves, and have an impact on decisions that are being made on their behalf. All youth should be familiar with IYAB to know they do have a voice and changes can be made.
One of the biggest challenges I faced when I attended college was stepping out of my comfort zone. This challenge was a result of me being in foster care. I used to think my troubles were who I was. After I made myself open I began to realize they aren’t. I was just as capable as anyone else to succeed in life. Foster youth are at a disadvantage because most of us don’t have anyone to push or empower us, but we are the most resilient. Our stories are our stories. They don’t define who we are, who we will be or what we are capable of. Everyone has their own story, and this is just mine.
Do you or someone you know have experience growing up in the foster care system? What unique challenges do you see for these students? What can be done to support these students along their path to graduation? Share in the comments below, or on social media using #AmGradIndy.
Jennifer was born and raised in Indianapolis, Indiana. She is a current senior at IUPUI and will graduate May 2016 with a Bachelors of Social Work. She is a proud member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated. She loves to paint and listen to music whenever she has free time.