by Becca Sanchez
At 22 years old, former foster youth Sixto Cancel has founded one organization, participated on numerous policy-making councils and boards, and is on track to graduate college.
His accomplishments belie a turbulent upbringing in and out of foster care, a course that stifles the potential of many young students.
“At one point it stopped becoming about me and started to become about the shared experiences and the trends that happen when you do go through the foster care experience,” said Cancel, discussing his policy work in an interview with The Chronicle.
Cancel describes his adolescence as a “roller coaster of experiences.” He weaved in and out of the system three times, at one point coming home to a locked door to find that his foster mother had moved.
At 15 years-old, Cancel secured his spot on the National Foster Care Youth and Alumni Council as a way to voice his concerns about the system because he wanted to share his experience and let people “know what had happened” while he was in the system. Projects ranged from presentations for foster parents to support workshops to fundraising to legislation.
While still in high school, Cancel created an SAT Prep program, Stellar Works, for his peers who needed a boost in school. For two years it ran on no budget, a labor of love. He then created a proposal, mapped out his ideas, and secured funding from organizations and private donors to turn it into a funded remedial program.
“For me it was more about where do I come to voice this complaint. It’s about figuring out what works and while adjusting what might not be working so well, but really looking at what is working and how do we maximize that and how do we better execute those things that work.”
Since then, seizing the opportunities to take on leadership roles has been the theme of Cancel’s adult life. Since his time in the foster care system, he has been involved in multiple organizations, having spoken on panels for the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative, Children Defense Funds, and Harvard Law School. He has also been featured on Huffington Post, CNN, and NPR’s Tell Me More.
The Clinton Global Initiative offered a global platform where he could encourage conversations about the foster care system.
“The Clinton Global Initiative, they really reformed my way of thinking.,” Cancel said. “Interacting with the CEOs and executive directors and funders; that network absolutely blows my mind. It really makes me feel like there is nothing you can’t do.”
As part of the Commitment of Action for the Clinton Global Initiative, Cancel founded his latest project, Think of Us. Think of Us is directed towards helping young people craft their message on a creative online platform through interactive videos “where you choose your own adventure by clicking within the video without leaving the video.””
This ties into what he hopes to reform about the foster care system.
“If there’s one thing that I would like to see the foster care improve, it’s to be able to step back and really see how is it that we can be innovative with technology to really serve the needs of families and young people who are involved with the system,” Cancel said.
Cancel is now a senior at Virginia Commonwealth University, on track to graduate in the spring.
Becca Sanchez is an intern reporter for The Chronicle of Social Change.