Writer Transition

Life is Transition, Time to Transition Writers!

Hey, hi, hello! My name is Octavia D Lacks, and I am the newest Youth Ambassador for the Child Welfare Resource Center. I have been tasked to write for this blog (Life is Transition) indefinitely! Meaning, I get to ramble on in a post in hopes that you read and enjoy it, which you will, because I am awesome. Hmm, so a little about me; I am 18 years old, I turn 19 on October 27th (hint hint, J), I am in college majoring in Criminal Justice, and I have been in foster care since I was 14 years old.

Enough about my level of awesomeness, and more about you; the youth! In order not to recreate the wheel, I figured I would skip what a “youth” is, what “transitioning” is and all that jazz because you know this, because you are brilliant! And also because if you have read the introduction post from Chris Nobles about 2 years ago, he covered it all. J

So, in talking about life transitions, I figured we could talk about the transition from high school into college. The homework load is different, the teachers are different, and the number of times you actually come to class matters in a different way. See in high school, it was mandated for you to show up to school on time and come to class, but in college you can miss all the classes you want. In college, the professors don’t care if you miss class, but they aren’t going to reteach material; and it is your job to go to them for the work and information you missed. Another thing about college, if you decide you want to sleep that extra hour and a half enough times in one semester, you will be dropped from class! Bummer. $600 for a class only to be dropped from it because your desire to sleep in out-weighed your will to show up to class. In conclusion, don’t skip class!

Join clubs, stay involved, ask questions, study, make new friends, if you have the opportunity to study abroad; do so. College is a challenge, but I am sure your life has thrown more difficult challenges at you, and if you have made it this far, you can make it through college.

Post number 1 from me, is complete! Any questions/comments or topics about transitioning you want discussed on here can be sent to me at olacks@pitt.edu and they will be anonymously answered in a post on the blog.

Life is a continuous transition; remember that your reaction to the transition will help constitute how smoothly it is.

Not About Us without Us!

Colin, North East YAB and YAB Core Member, wrote this following the YAB Summit:  

As you know, life is transition.  Whether you’re 15 or 55, life is constantly evolving and throwing new obstacles is your path.  No one knows this better than system youth, especially YAB youth.  We try our best to adapt and adjust and we use whatever tools that we have available.  In YAB, we use our tools of experience, partnering with professionals and much more to assist ourselves and our peers with the transitions of life.

This why I love YAB Statewide get togethers.  Whether its the Summit, the Retreat or even a quarterly Statewide meeting, this is where the most fun and most amazing things happen.  Every person’s story and situation is different.  Some youth, like myself, may have had to grow up quickly and never fully enjoy the treasures of childhood.  Some youth may have been abused, neglected or even forgotten about by the system until they found YAB.  But at the end of the day, especially at big statewide functions, none of that matters.  When we get together we get work done, but we also have fun, we network and socialize, but most importantly we pay it forward.  When we get together we are NOT our problems, or our past.  We are one.  We are a group of youth and young adults whose sole intention is to better the lives of our peers and even of those whom we may never meet, but know that their time in care is better than ours was.  We give a voice to those who need it, and we make sure that needs are met. Because after all, It’s not about us without us. 

Octavia- Part 2, A question and Answer!

(This is not Octavia!) 

What’s your all-time favorite __________, why?

My favorite animal would be a camel. “A camel’s hump is a storehouse of fats which provides energy during its long journey in the desert…” For me a camel represents a long journey through the desert of life. At times there will seem like you will never reach a resting point, your destination. But you do. My ‘hump’ of energy stored during the journey is God and all the people who have never walked away or given up on me. That has been my support and foundation to help me go a little further than I even thought I could. The desert doesn’t last forever; therefore the trials can’t last forever.

 

What is one change you would like to see in the system?

One change I would like to see in the system is more foster homes offering age-appropriate freedoms to older youth. Older youth make up a huge population of the foster care system; if they aren’t placed into foster homes they are placed in group homes, shelters or where ever there is room. For me that breaks my heart. Whether a youth is 8 years old or 17 years old; they need the family connection. The family connection provides a sense of support, stability and guidance that helps the youth make an easy transition into adulthood.

 

What advice would you give to youth in care who want to go to college?

Never think that you don’t have the capacity or you aren’t good enough for college. If college is the route you want to take, take it. There are so many grants and financial aid available including the Chafee Grant for youth in care. Don’t let finances or anything else distract you from going to college, if that’s what you want to pursue.

What is your favorite Youth Advisory Board memory?

My favorite Youth Advisory Board memory; hmmm, there are so many! I guess one of the things I remember most is when I first started YAB in 2011, working with Justin to plan a Stakeholders Banquet with other members of SC YAB. It was a great experience to work with other youth (my peers) and working with Justin. He was fun, motivating, encouraging and very informative about anything IL. I learned so many things about myself working with Justin. Plus, it helped me network to find out about the position I am currently in as a Youth Ambassador! J

Meet a Youth Ambassador! - Octavia Lacks part 1

Octavia Lacks grew up in Littlestown, Pennsylvania; known for only having one stoplight. Although Octavia grew up in a small town, her heart belongs to the city.

Octavia entered foster care when she was 14 years old. After 6 foster home placements, she has found a sense of stability in the foster home she is currently in. Octavia plans to stay in foster care until she is 21.  She is currently pursuing Supervised Independent Living to get her own apartment. Octavia is a freshman at Harrisburg Area Community College and is working towards a degree in Criminal Justice and ultimately becoming a Juvenile Probation Officer.

One of the things that is important to Octavia while being in care is family relationships. Despite numerous placements, Octavia has been able to maintain a relationship with her biological brothers and sister.  Whether it was at Milton Hershey School or a foster home in the area, Octavia has always made it a priority to keep in touch with her biological family. She views it as, “you don’t have to be a product of your environment(s), but you can still have a relationship with people from that part of your life”.

Even though Octavia’s childhood has not been easy, she tries to make the most of any situation she is put in. Octavia has found a voice while participating on the Youth Advisory Board.  She was recently elected as a representative for her county in 2012.

Octavia’s long-term goal is to finish school, earn her degree and move to an area such as Washington, DC to pursue her career goal.

 

Stay tuned next week for Octavia’s question and answer! 

Surviving Christmas

                           

Now that we are fully enmeshed in holiday spirit, I think it’s time to talk about the Holiday Blues.  

I love Christmas!  I decorated a week before Thanksgiving, I have a Christmas mug at work and if you’re friends with me on Facebook, you might have seen a cheerful post or two. 

Though, while talking to some current and former foster youth, the holidays seem to bring more grief than happiness.  Those nagging memories from past holidays seem to float to the top of our consciousness, or if ever there was a time for family drama, this season always brings it full force.   If only that baggage could just be left at some curb for someone else to deal with. #AmIRight?

So for the next few weeks, I want your Holiday survival tips.  How do foster youth and alum around Pennsylvania survive the Holidays?  I’ll be posting them in various YAB hot spots during and after the holidays.  Remember, you aren’t alone and there are people around to support you during the holidays and throughout the year.  So again, how do you keep festive during the festivities?   How do you remember to feel the Joy in joyful?  I want your stories, your advice, your checklists and your quotes.  Let’s help each other out!  

Transition Through Advocacy

Colin McShane, a North East YAB Member, writes about how being a part of advocacy has helped him Transition.  

Life is most definitely transition.  And for some of us, part of that transition is advocacy for our fellow peers.  I first got into youth advocacy four years ago, when I was still in the substitute care system.  I was in a group home outside of Philly, and I was reading through my orientation packet when I came across a  piece of paper that had youth rights on it.  Doing some further research on my own, I found out so much more about the rights we had as youth in care and often spent my time speaking up for my fellow peers and even made my way into the weekly staff meetings to voice the ideas and concerns that other youth came up with.   Later, as my discharge from the group home was getting close, the vice president of the facility came to me and asked me if I was interested in joining their Board of Directors as a Youth  Representative.  Two years after that, I was approached by YAB.

Today, four years after my advocacy journey began I am still a member of YAB, still the Youth Representative of the Board of Directors and I also serve on my county’s MH/MR advisory board.  I must say, it hasn’t always been easy, but it has always been enjoyable.  Not just because I’m helping other people, but because these same people are helping me.  Every story I hear, every idea that is brought up, is new insight into life.  Every person has their struggles and hardships.  And every person has found their own way to cope and move on.  As an advocate, I feel as though it is not only my duty to speak for youth, but to assist them with their transitions through life.  Often times, these youth do want to make changes in their own lives but don’t know how to.  When we as advocates are fighting for their rights or creating legislation to help make their transitions easier, we are not just empowering these youth.  We are giving them the second chance that they deserve.  At the end of the day, even through there are plenty of youth that might not know what YAB is, or that we are fighting for them, simply knowing that I am influencing positive change and providing that second chance through policy and action is enough for me.  I am proud to be a member of YAB and am grateful to have the chance to experience transition through advocacy.

YAB Summit Summary by Greta Weiss

Once again, the Youth Advisory Board has been busy learning and making themselves heard!  At the recent 2012 Youth Summit, held in State College, youth representing all of the regions of Pennsylvania Youth Advisory board met to discuss the new Fostering Connections Law, learn about strategic sharing, and participate in either a Know Your Rights workshop, or a time management workshop.  The summit culminated in a panel of youth presenting ideas of why parts of Fostering Connections are important and some recommendations for the implementation of the new law.
                All parts of the Youth Summit created great discussion and we all learned a lot.  Youth learned about taking care of themselves while sharing their stories, and considering their audience and purpose.  Youth also became experts of the Fostering Connections law and learned all about the requirements and important components of youth reentering the system.  These trainings were extremely productive and we all had a great time getting to know each other while increasing our knowledge.
                During the Know Your Rights workshop, youth had the opportunity to learn about updated Know Your Rights information.  The time management workshop showed youth great ways to minimize stress and prioritize their schedules.  In this workshop, youth brainstormed ways to motivate themselves and stay organized, and how to apply these skills to being involved with the Youth Advisory Board and participating in the Youth Summit.
                Finally, each region represented at the youth summit came up with recommendations for the implementation of the Fostering Connections law for and what it should look like for older youth reentering care.  The parts of the law that were focused on were permanency, housing, re-entry and planning, and age appropriate freedoms.  The Youth Advisory Board regions determined what their recommendations were and recognized potential barriers to their goals for their recommendations.  From this, they made strategic plans that outlined quick wins and goals for their ideas.  The youth developed some great recommendations and excellent plans for follow through!
                For the second and last day of the summit, six youth representing the Youth Advisory Board spoke as a panel to the Pennsylvania Children and Youth Administrators.  The youth talked about why permanency, housing, re-entry and planning, and age appropriate freedoms are such important parts of Fostering Connections.  Some of the recommendations that were planned the previous day were also shared. Some impactful personal experiences were also shared by the members of the panel, who represented 65 years of experience with the child welfare system.  The input was powerful and was clearly heard by child welfare leaders.  It’s exciting and inspiring to think about where these recommendations will lead and how they will impact older youth!

And after Transition, More Transition…

Chris Nobles here. I’ve recently moved on from the Child WelfareTraining Program Resource Center to a position as an RA (Resident Advisor) at a new Valley Youth House SIL (Supervised Independent Living) site in Delaware County. I’m sure you haven’t quite had time to miss me yet, but I wanted to keep you posted on a few things I’ve noticed since I’ve been out here. Another list, for the cause:

1. LIFE IS HARD! Seeing youth no more than five years behind me going through what still feels so fresh in my memory actually blows me away. I’ve told plenty of people that age 17-18 is likely as hard as I’ll work my entire life and… seeing it from the outside or at least from a mentoring perspective… it’s 100% true. Just to break even, to start up a relatively normal life, these youth really have to grind and keep out of any sort of trouble. It’s tough. Buy they’re up to the task.

2. LIFE IS HARD (2)! To manage this transition personally, I somehow had to manage to change places of employment, change residence, attempt to get a license, attempt to get a car, figure out how I was going to move my things from one residence to the next without having secured a license or car, get to know my new position, get to know my new supervisor, get to know the new area, help set up the house so that it was livable, introduce the program at a few speaking engagements, and THEN get to know the six residents. Wait, wasn’t life supposed to be easier after 17-18?

3. Motivate. A very wise person once said to me “Human beings are the last great untapped resource on the planet,” which is a quote I cite very often. Like most quotes though, it’s misquoted and I admit that. The second part of the comment was, “…so if you think oil companies manage to run the world, imagine what you could do if you could manage to move people the way they move barrels.” A bit obscure, but a good point. I’m beginning to learn that, often times, the greatest good can be done by influencing and motivating other people in positive ways. I couldn’t pay a system youth to take pride in themselves and want to achieve—-there is nothing I could give them, other than a positive example and encouragement, which could grant them the energy and drive to be more.

4. Some assembly required. As a one receiving services in the system for a long time, and working with professionals afterward, I always sort of got the impression that the pros had everything together and knew what they were doing. I bet some of the people I work with now get the same impression about me. I now find this hilarious—-every day, for different reasons, no matter what your circumstance, everyone winds up throwing themselves together enough to be presentable and just doing their best. This experience has shown me that youth in care are at a disadvantage not for the nature of their life issues (because everyone has them), but because of the form the issues take and lack of resources to aid in working through them.

5. Life is Transition.  Yeah I’m saying it again. Because it is. The more different people I meet, different angles I get on life, the more I notice that it all looks pretty much the same in a very beautiful way. Everyone’s going somewhere. Seeing, and appreciating, and enjoying that change is key.