What makes a strong, healthy, educated, and independent person? What negative influences lead to failure and dependence? I have often contemplated these questions because as a young girl I did not have equal opportunities for growth and development. For almost a decade I was shuffled around in foster homes and institutions. So many of my former foster brothers and sisters are now incarcerated, homeless, became teen parents, or fell into the cycles of abuse that brought them into care.
Promoting the health, nutrition, education, safety, and prosperity of the next generation is key to ensuring the survival and productivity of every community. My experience and education has taught me that we must invest in children and families as they are the core of this concept.
Globally we have services in place to help vulnerable populations, but child welfare, social work, medical, mental health, faith-based, and educational professionals are often strained because they are underfunded and understaffed. Social service agencies don’t always have the ability to reach all those in need; and yet these problems are too important to be ignored.
Since the state was technically my parent until I was 12, my childhood was governed by child welfare laws, agency rules and policies. But ultimately, it was the love, patience, and dedication of a few individuals that changed my life. My needs and sometimes safety were overlooked by a tangled bureaucracy. Luckily, teachers called-in the abuse reports, which led to the investigation of questionable foster parents. A Guardian ad Litem (CASA volunteer) advocated for me in dependency court. Community members donated goods and services that helped meet my basic necessities and give me enrichment. Through word of mouth, a family became aware of me and they later became my forever home.
Many families require various levels of support and assistance. Some are lucky enough to have close support systems and healthy cooperation, while others need much more complex aid. This assistance does not always necessitate a large, expensive state or private infrastructure. The power of one person or a small, committed group may be more effective at the local level. I began The Foundation for Sustainable Families to use my knowledge and experience to gather like-minded experts, clinicians, and caring individuals to help struggling families and encourage many levels of community support. We aim to mobilize people wanting to contribute time, resources, funds, or expertise. Just as a pebble tossed into a pond sends ripples to the far edges, even a tiny contribution often makes a bigger impact than expected.
This community-based initiative has evolved from my personal and professional understanding that the most valuable changes happen at the family and community levels. We must empower the individual to be self-sufficient and encourage all to take action for themselves and others. By preventing abuse, hunger, neglect, and breaking down barriers to education and resources, we will lay the groundwork for a productive and safer society.
As a concerned Millennial, I advocate that we each become involved and invested in our global future, starting with our children. Lend a helping hand when a family is struggling. Be the student to speak up when you see a peer being bullied. Embrace a friend with some differences. Contribute time or resources to a local agency that serves at-risk populations.
Step Forward, Take Notice, and Take Action!