Why Foster Care Month Matters To Me

When I was a sophomore in college, I decided to compete in the Miss Pierce County Scholarship Program. It was an opportunity to earn scholarships for college and be in a pageant. As part of the program, I was required to have a volunteer platform. After some brainstorming, I decided I wanted to help other foster children. I spent thirteen years of my childhood in foster care. For me, I saw the chance to help other children who had experienced similar circumstances. Honestly, I didn’t know what this ‘help’ looked like but I was determined to give back.

I began volunteering with a transitional living program for foster youth through Pierce County Alliance in Tacoma, WA. As expected, I was given intern duties: filing, grabbing coffee, and answering phones. However, I had the chance to to work with the teens. They were so full of life and had many questions. My tenure with the program was short but it left an impression on me. The greatest lesson I learned is that being present is right up there with being ‘helpful.’

After the Pierce County Alliance, I began sharing my foster care story at foster parent trainings, child welfare conferences, and other community events. I was anxious to share my story. For many years, I couldn’t speak about my experience. It was hard to talk about or people refused to listen. But I felt encouraged. I knew the foster care system could only improve if people like me shared their stories. It wasn’t easy but I knew my story could help anyone heard it. Whether it be a new foster parent, policy maker, or even a stranger.

In May 2017, I attended the Children’s Justice Conference. The keynote speaker, Carl Price, was a U.S. Navy veteran and cancer survivor. He also grew up in foster care. It was only a week earlier I had shared my own foster care story as a keynote speaker. Prior to hearing Carl speak, I had my reservations about whether my story could impact people’s lives. When I heard Carl speak, I hung onto every word he spoke. He vividly described what it was like going through cancer – alone. He mentioned the adults who made a difference in his life. And most importantly, he said everyone in the audience could also evoke hope in the life of a foster child.

I wrote to Carl thanking him for inspiring me to continue my own journey as a motivational speaker. He has since become a mentor and a shining example of what it means to rise above your circumstances. This is why Foster Care Month is important to me. It highlights the stories of those who overcome and in return, connects people to one another. When I left foster care, I felt alone in my struggles. By opening up to others, I learned they too faced adversity in their lives – job loss, death, and unwanted change. It made me feel less alone and more empowered to to carry on in my life’s journey.

For the last two years, I have traveled as a keynote speaker across the nation. What has touched me the most are audience members who walk up to me – people of all ethnicities, ages, and professions. They mention to me they were also in foster care. This was something I did not predict would happen when I set forth on this path. It brings me such joy to know I can help others feel heard and less alone. This is something that makes me proud as a professional and an alumni of foster care.

Jamerika Haynes