Former Foster Youth Running for Florida Senate

Ashley Rhodes-Courter is running for a Florida State Senate office in a race nicknamed by the Saint Petersblog as the “David and Goliath of Senate races.”

She will play the role of David.

Rhodes-Courter, 26, is running against Jack Latvala (R), 60, who held the seat from 1994-2002 and won it again in 2010.

“It will be a challenge but someone has got to face him,” said Rhodes-Courter.

Facing challenges in nothing new to her.

Placed in foster care at age three, Rhodes-Courter lived in 14 foster homes. She says many of her foster parents were felons, and physical and sexual abuse were present in the homes. She was often separated from her brother, who was also in care.

“My experience in foster care definitely wasn’t glowing,” said Rhodes.

Light came into her life when she turned 12, and was adopted from a children’s home.

“I was really fortunate to have that family that stuck with me though thick and thin, and find that permanency and support system that many youth don’t have,” said Rhodes-Courter.

Her support system came just in time for her high schools years, when all she could think about was getting to college. But college costs money, a lot of money, so Rhodes-Courter searched and applied for writing scholarships and any opportunities that would financially support her higher education.

She applied to an essay contest at the New York Times Magazine, which asked contestants to write about a day that changed their life. She picked her adoption day, and wrote about how terrifying of an experience it was.

Her essay,  “Three Little Words,” won the contest. And after she graduated from Eckerd College in St. Petersberg, Fla., the essay became a published memoir.

“I realized what happened to me wasn’t right and there are a lot of kids these things happen to, said Rhodes-Courter. “I knew it was an issue bigger than myself.”

She now travels internationally to speak with child welfare leaders and professors and youth about the realities of the foster care system. Her next stop, she hopes, is the Florida State Senate.

Among the issues Rhodes-Courter would like to focus on are replacing deep education cuts to provide full education coverage for students in the public school system, and full access to health care, especially reproductive health care, for women.  Using the example of her adoptive family which owns a small business, she wants to invest more in Florida’s businesses and renewable energy sources.

“I’m only 26, but I think I have the passion and determination to stick this out,” said Rhodes-Courter.

While on the campaign trail, she has been juggling lots of things. She and her husband have three foster children at home, all under the age of three; they have had 12 children since they began fostering two years ago. She is also in her last year of online graduate work at the University of Southern California School of Social Work, and she is pregnant with her first child, due election week this November.

But Rhodes-Courter says despite the amount of responsibility she has now in her personal life, she feels a great responsibility to keep advocating for youth and keeping Florida government in line with the needs of its youngest residents.

“Our legislation has moved away from what children and families really need. We’re cutting the education budget and mental health budget,” said Rhodes-Couter. “I’m hoping to be a representative of what the needs really are in Florida.”

If this election doesn’t turn out the way of David’s biblical battle, Rhodes-Courter says she will keep running in future elections.

“There are too many people that need to be heard to quit. There is definitely more advocacy and work that needs to be done.”

Ryann Blackshere is a multimedia journalist with Fostering Media Connections.

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