Newsmakers: Foster Youth Attend Inauguration

Around 6 a.m. on Jan. 21, three former foster youth bundled up in their warmest clothes and headed to the nation’s capitol to witness the inaugural celebration of President Barack Obama.

Sixto Cancel, 20, Daniesha Tobey-Richards, 19, and Elbert Belcher, 21, were all invited by Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) to attend the historic ceremony in Washington D.C.

“I’m pleased that these three outstanding individuals accepted our invitation to attend President Obama’s Inauguration and seize this opportunity at the very beginning of his second term and this new Congress to raise awareness around the need for transformative change within our nation’s foster care system,” said Representative Bass.

The three were invited as interns of Foster Club to not only participate in the inaugural activities, but the National Day of Service, lunch with Rep. Bass, and a number of meetings with congressional members from their respective state districts.

“If you had told 14-year old Daniesha who was put into foster care that year that she would not only be able to advocate for foster youth but see the Inauguration of President Obama, she wouldn’t have believed you,” said Tobey-Richards, who is now a sophomore at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth.

Tobey-Richards says the experience has increased her interest in politics and Washington, D.C. During the Inaugural weekend, she learned more about Rep. Karen Bass helping pass the Uninterrupted Scholars Act earlier this month, which grants social workers easier access to foster youth’s records.

She says the act would have helped her while she was in care, but is grateful that it will help her two younger siblings who are still in the system. Now she is interested in being part of the lawmaking process herself.

Sixto Cancel, her fellow intern, was also inspired politically during the inauguration.

“I make the joke all the time that President Obama is our father, and to hear him talk about what’s important to this country and include the most vulnerable which is the children, foster children, is very significant,” said Cancel, 20, and a sophomore at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Cancel was almost unable to attend the Inauguration because he was robbed in front of his home two days prior to the trip. But after finding help to secure a temporary identification card the day after, he was able to make the journey.

“When young people are able to participate in events like this, it tells me that President Obama’s story of resilience is the same as the story of foster youth every single day,” said Cancel.

“Anytime we can bring young people out and both build capacity and participate in what happens here is a real opportunity,” said Celeste Bodner, executive director of Foster Club, who accompanied the youth throughout the weekend.

“The ability to come and participate in such a historic day is just an extension of young people having a place in child welfare,” said Bodner.

Travel to Washington, D.C. for the three Foster Club interns was covered by Casey Family Programs. Casey also sponsored a post-inauguration reception for these youth and other former foster youth, including some from Washingtonians for Children, who were invited by congressional members to attend the event. About 40 youth attended.

Youth from Great Expectations, a support group for former foster youth in the Virginia Secondary Education system, were invited by Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va) and also attended the luncheon.

“Our halls of government have an impact on so many lives, especially these kids whose lives are intertwined with the government system,” said Anne Holton, Program Director of Great Expectations and wife of Sen. Kaine. “I think the President’s words about we are all one and can come together against all odds if we work together they know most about because they know about beating odds.”

The youth met with Sen. Kaine, Reps. Bill Keating (D-Mass.) and  Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.), and others who are either new to Congress or are involved in important congressional committees. The youth shared their personal stories about the foster care system and encouraged members to join the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth (CCFY) during the meetings.

All three interns blogged about their experience on the CCFY website using videos and pictures.  To read more about their experience, visit here.

Ryann Blackshere is a reporter for The Chronicle of Social Change

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