Jenny Dang Vinopal, a child welfare advocate with 20 years of experience working with foster youth, was named today as the new executive director of the National Foster Youth Institute (NFYI).
NFYI is a Los Angeles-based national advocacy organization that aims to transform the child welfare system and improve outcomes for foster youth. It was founded by U.S. Congresswoman Karen Bass (D-Calif.).
“I feel like working with foster youth is my life’s work,” Vinopal said in an interview on Friday. “I’m committed and very passionate about helping young people find their purpose, their voice, their opportunities.”
Vinopal’s priorities at NFYI will be updating the organization’s strategic plan and strengthening safety nets for foster youth that have been eroding, she said.
“With this very turbulent administration, we don’t want foster youth to get lost in the shuffle,” Vinopal said.
Vinopal spent the last six years working as director of programs for the California Youth Connection, a youth-led foster care advocacy organization. Previously, she led the development of Guardian Scholars programs at several universities and helped develop the California Pathways initiative across the state. She is also a former social worker with a master’s degree in social work.
NFYI was established in 2014 with support from Casey Family Programs and the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation. Its first executive director was Marlo Nash, who left in 2015 to return to the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities. Lilla Weinberger then served as director for about a year before Jaleesa Hazzard took over as interim director.
Vinopal said that she is committed to staying in the role for as long as she can.
“Jenny has substantial experience in movement building along with a deep knowledge of youth leadership development,” Conway Collis, NFYI’s board chair, said in an announcement today. “She has dedicated her career to increasing youth participation within the child welfare system on both the state and federal level.”
Vinopal came to the U.S. as a refugee child from Vietnam and grew up in an impoverished single-parent household.
“I never thought I would be where I am as an Asian Pacific Islander woman,” Vinopal said.
Correction: The original version of this article misspelled the name of NFYI board chair Conway Collis.