My name is Justin Hayden and I am 20 years old. I am a communication major with a focus in public relations and a minor in psychology at Purdue University Northwest. I was placed in foster care when I was 14 years old and aged out at 18. This was such a difficult time for me. I never felt comfortable living in foster homes, which is why I was so excited to finally go off to college. I imagined it being just like how it is in the movies. You go to college, have study sessions with some friends in your favorite spots on campus, find an amazing internship that gives you a head start in your career. I had all of this until the effects of COVID-19 brought all of that to a halt.
I have lived comfortably in my dorm for almost two years now and have never feared that I would be forced to leave until now. We are one of the few universities in the country that is continuing to allow students to stay on campus. Our university is in Hammond, Indiana, which is only 30 miles from Chicago, a large metropolitan area with (as I write this in March) more than 5,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus. The other former foster youth on campus as well as myself all dread it whenever we receive an email titled “Housing” from our school emails, due to the fear of opening one and it says that they must close housing to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Outside of my dorm, I do not have anywhere else to go if this pandemic continues to worsen should they decide to evacuate student housing. This isn’t the only issue that I face. Because our university is shut down and I do not own a laptop or computer, I do not have the proper materials to complete all of my assignments. I have to do my homework on my phone or on my tablet. I sometimes ask to borrow my roommate’s laptop, but she too has work to do. Not having the proper technology has also made it difficult to participate in online classes. I am constantly emailing my professors to keep them aware of the difficulties that I am experiencing to lessen the determination of my participation grade. It is a slow adjustment, but I am managing the best I can.
I also do not have a job. Just before the country was advised to stay in our homes, I was looking for work, and now that is also at a standstill. I have been forced to tap into my savings in order to make ends meet. I am very grateful to be a part of the Educational Training Voucher program. Without it, I would be much worse off than I am now.
Not only has this virus affected my education and living situation, but it’s also affecting my career and entrepreneurial journey as well. In January, I had applied for a summer internship with FosterClub. I was more than excited to get an email in March saying that they would like to schedule a phone interview with me.
After my interview, I felt very confident that I would be accepted for the internship. I am still waiting to find out whether or not that’s the case, but I fear that FosterClub will have to cancel their internship for this year, which will be a great disappointment for not only myself but for all the other potential applicants.
The spread of this pandemic has also affected my business as an entrepreneur. Over a year ago, I started a business along with two other former foster youth with a mission to provide training, advocacy and leadership development to underprivileged youth and young adults. We teach them how to strategically share their voices and ensure that they are actually heard and understood. After a year of going through the research and concepts stage, we dedicated the start of this year to finally get our business off the ground.
Our main goal is to help the underprivileged transition from being resilient to become persevering human beings. We work with constituents of the system to make sure that their needs are being met. We partner with child welfare agencies to ensure that youth get everything they need from the services that are provided to them. In addition, we work with public officials to change child welfare legislation. Now we are creating new strategies to promote the work that we do as a business virtually, which has its challenges in itself.
Despite the circumstances of my situation, I know that there are others who are experiencing far more severe problems than I am. There are current foster youth who have to remain in their foster homes while their school is their actual safe haven. There are former foster youth who are in college now, out of work, homeless, and having to seek out host homes to grant them shelter during this time. As a foster youth, we are all striving to get as close to normalcy as possible. What will normalcy look like for us after this?
Justin Hayden, 20, came from a loving home with an amazing family that has endured tough times. He was placed in foster care when he was 14 years old and aged out at 18. Despite his mother’s efforts to make ends meet, she ran out of options but still put him first. This was a burdensome time for Justin but a crucial moment in his life growth, the good and bad. He took everything as a life lesson, knowing that was not his final destination. Without childhood role models, he was still able to see what he didn’t want in his life. He was determined to never feel powerless over his own life again. This is why he is an advocate for those in need, as he once was and in some ways still is. He has seized the opportunity to serve, teach and learn.