This blog series highlights the experiences of Arielle D. as she learns about how to use her voice and story to advocate for policy change in foster care! Follow Arielle as she shares her experiences testifying before a Michigan House Committee hearing, shadowing lawmakers during Michigan's first Legislative Shadow Day, and as a FosterClub All Star, TNFC Ambassador and the FSM Student Ambassador for 2020!
Feeding 2 Birds with One Seed: Incorporating Advocacy and Research into College Assignments
February 13, 2020
When I returned to college this Fall, I had only 2 days to get ready to start new classes. I had just returned from a 6-week internship for FosterClub that focused on my passion: advocacy for change within the foster care system. I had spent the summer travelling across the country, and it was difficult for me to put aside all of the information I had just learned and start to engage in new classes and assignments. By the middle of my 1st semester, I knew I had created a fixed mindset and it ended up setting me up for failure.
I took most of the winter break to reevaluate my goals. I focused on my second semester by writing all future dates for new classes in my planner. I made a worksheet that planned out current goals I had as well as goals to set for the end of the year. As I started my new courses, I realized that I could make the most of my college assignments by incorporating child welfare issues as research topics, something I was passionate about!
I had the opportunity in my English class identify a topic that interested me and the area I wanted to focus on for my career. I chose to focus on child welfare and started to research different articles and websites of organizations that provide information and other resources. I noticed it became easier for me to push myself to do the homework because it was something that I was interested in, and, on my free time would already want to study or learn more about! By incorporating my passion into my school projects, it was way simpler for me to have a finished goal in mind.
Within these last few years of college, I hope I get the opportunity to not only work alongside organizations for child welfare but also to continue to be able to use my time in college to research and write about my passion.
January 21, 2020
Meet FSM's 2020 Student Ambassador!
My name is Arielle D., I am currently pursuing a major in communications, attending Wayne State University, participating in the CHAMPS program. I am also a TNFC Ambassador, and the official 2020 FSM Student Ambassador!
I am currently focused on studying communications. This degree provides the chance for me to understand how to develop structured communication skills and to also learn how this major will help me further develop skills in all aspects of communication moving forward into adulthood. I am hoping to use my future degree as a foundation to develop professionalism and skills as I start courses of action within the present policy of the child welfare system. I have been more than grateful for all of the opportunities and I’ve received during this first year or so of advocacy. I am so excited!!
Getting the opportunity to learn and grow, not only as the FSM Student Ambassador 2020 but also as a TNFC Ambassador, will allow me start to develop effective time management skills and knowing when my capacity outweighs the physical capability of what I can tolerate. It makes me want to take action right away along with other members’ topics that will help improve both the outcome of youth transitioning out of care, as well as the lives of youth still in care. I want to accomplish a new level of learning, and I want to focus on student involvement within networks of change.
For me, knowing that when I set specific goals, while I hope to accomplish them to the best of my ability, I know that I will have to remember that sometimes my original goal will change or might end differently and to accept the possibility of change. I am honestly so thankful I started in the TNFC Ambassadors group! They are all such a hardworking, devoted group of people who strive to work together, take action, and get things done. I believe my passion for wanting to create change within the system comes from things I’ve dealt with, knowing that while something unfortunate did happen, I can advocate for change so that it doesn’t happen again.
I am also part of Michigan Youth Opportunities Initiative (MYOI). MYOI connected me to a community of people who I felt I could go to for support and resources throughout my high school years. While teaching the essentials of adulthood, they also helped asses what my goals should be after graduation, sharing tons of information on the different scholarships specifically for former foster youth as well as how to fill out the FAFSA, etc. I also informed about all of the colleges in Michigan schools offering campus-based support programs and learned about the different scholarships and funding that was available for youth. I enjoyed being able to visit different campuses through MYOI!
The CHAMPS support program through Wayne State has offered such helpful and reliable resources. I believe it is critical for youth who have experienced foster care to not only receive training on life skills and resources, but to also be aware of how many programs are out there to help youth! These programs focus on supporting youth who have aged out of the foster care system realize their educational goals while also providing workshops on emergency funding, tutoring, career mentoring, life-skills training and so many other helpful resources.
I believe that legislators need to understand that while the funds that youth receive through scholarships are helpful, the campus-based programs are also just as helpful and also offer tons of support. I am very excited to be able to use my voice and my story to advocate and make changes in the foster care system! I've been able to be a part of and learn far more on politics and I am so grateful and excited what this next year has in store for me.
July 11, 2019
The New Foster Care
Over the course of this year, I have gotten the great privilege of working with such a positive group of people to expand my horizons in policy work. Fortunately this particular group of people I actually met 4 years prior where they had multiple trainings and a contest on how to start a business. I remember my pitch being for a silly PB&J sandwich business that would take place in a local farmers market. I remember working so hard on the business plan - using all the tools and lessons they taught me. Unfortunately my pitch was not the winner, but it opened my mind to really start thinking of things like this I could do when I grew older. Coming from the system often puts a hold on the child’s dream to become the best version of themselves. For so long I had put the whole topic of my career and future on hold, simply because I didn’t have the mindset to change the circumstances for myself.
After the entrepreneur course I had sunk back down in this slow, ongoing mindset that I wouldn’t do anything after I graduate college. With the help of MYOI and my school counselor, I slowly started to realize the importance of my success at that point in my life. I applied to Wayne State and was accepted. From there I connected with CHAMPS - the campus based support program for the school. Before the semester started, I was invited to go to an event regarding the Fostering Futures Scholarship. While there, I ran into Khadija and Will Fobbs - the same people that had taught me four years ago on how to start a business. We exchanged contact information and from there started to learn and help with their non-profit organization - The New Foster Care. Over the next couple months, I learned what their mission was and wanted to be involved as much as possible.
My first event I got to be a part of was a Legislative Forum. It was an amazing opportunity, as I got to ask a panel of Legislators who were running for the upcoming election what their thoughts and plans were regarding the Child Welfare System. This experience jolted me with such new, amazing energy I just kept wanting to do more. I then became apart of TNFC’s Leader Corp. - a group of youth all coming from a background in care to come together and discuss issues related to the child welfare system. This opportunity took hold of my life for the good and made me want to do as much as I can for the generation of youth behind me. This topic is such a big conversation nowadays and I am honored to be apart of the TNFC team. Over the past year I have gotten to speak at events, sharing my story and creating a platform for myself as an advocate. Without the help of TNFC, these opportunities for me to speak or the knowledge I have gained wouldn't be as impactful as it is. I just want to thank TNFC for being there pulling me in the direction of using my story to break the barrier of failure as foster youth. I am so excited for my ongoing learning in advocacy. I am resilient and I have learned that my voice and story has an impact on every person I come into contact with.
Are you interested in becoming a TNFC Ambassador? Click here to learn more!
July 10, 2019
Art & Soul Dreams
Art and Soul Dreams is a non-profit organization that's main focus is to create awareness and action to the topic of connecting families with foster care children through adoption. They work with talented professional photographers and take pictures for children who are currently in the system who are waiting for adoption. There goal is to take these beautiful photos and hang them in places that are noticeable to the public to keep in mind in their everyday lives. Speaking at the event, I was able to talk to many people about the importance of these children getting to love and life they deserve. Growing up in the system can put a barrier on that child's decisions of what they do for the rest of there life so having that one person or group of people that are motivated and humble to help spread the word of this topic was very moving for me. I not only got to make amazing connections with the people there but I was able to talk to people about my life goals and made outside connections for a possible job later down the road. I am so thankful for these opportunities and they are making me become such a more professional advocate. I am excited for my journey ahead as I am sticking to the path of advocacy. I can honestly say I am more than excited for my life and future in advocating for the Child Welfare System.
July 2, 2019
Michigan Teen Conference!
Michigan Teen Conference is a conference held for youth ages 14 to 21 to come together to connect and network with other youth in similar situations without being concerned about the stigma that foster care often carries. I have gone consecutively since 2015 and can easily say that it is very beneficial for the youth to participate. From the key-note speakers, workshops, teen panels and the “resources for life” activity; there is more than enough information to learn and receive to guide you through your future path. The youth not only get to hear from successful adults who have struggled through the foster care system, but also get to listen to the struggles and successes of former foster youth who are currently in college. It is by far my favorite conference to go to every year. I’ve went for the past 5 years and I love the things they do different every year and how much growth and success it is creating for these kids. I remember my first time going it was a bit overwhelming at first but the amount of love and kindness not only from the staff, but from the other youth that were just as excited to be there made me feel relieved. I remember hearing my first key-note speaker and imagining what it would be like to one day do the same thing and share my story of my success. I was very excited for this year especially because I was asked to speak on a panel that talks about college life as a foster youth. There, I got to express how helpful campus-based support programs were and the necessity of holding onto the information about the different scholarships and free money you could recieve for college especially for former/current foster youth. I even got to participate in their very first talent show this year! The workshops are diverse and each one is packed with information ranging from sharing your story strategically to basic knowledge of Medicare. From the workshops I’ve been to, I get to learn about something helpful everytime. Each workshop is run by someone who is passionate to give you the information you need for the rest of your life. Overall, I believe the Michigan Teen Conference is such an impactful opportunity for youth that have come from care to receive this information and take part of this opportunity to grow, especially in this time of their lives. It gives them the hope and knowledge of how to grow as a former foster youth.
June 14, 2019
Michigan's First Ever Foster Youth Legislative Shadow Day!
Michigan hosted the first ever Foster Youth Legislative Shadow Day at the capitol building in Lansing on June 13th, and I was honored to be one of the shadowees for the event. It's an event where we shadow a representative and get in on what they do and talk about bills while also giving them information about the foster care system. It's run by an organization called the National Foster Youth Institute, which happens to already do a National Shadow Day in Washington DC. Their mission is to vastly improve the outcomes for foster youth by working with members of Congress to focus on federal policy, creating support for the child welfare reform, and specifically empowering Foster Youth and families to make their voices heard. Overall, this opportunity was an awakening for myself to see what all I could be in my future. Over the course of the three days, I was filled with new experiences, information, connections, and so many other amazing, mind-blowing events. When I first arrived in Lansing, all the staff and youth that were involved all played a little game night prior to the days of workshops and shadow day ahead. I really enjoyed the icebreaker that night because we all had so much fun while also getting to meet and learn about the others there. I really enjoyed the workshops that were presented by Michigan’s Children and also the workshop on strategic sharing. While the days before the actual Shadow Day were going by so fast, I was so ready to meet the Representative I was shadowing.
When we arrived for Shadow Day, I was very nervous but as soon as we were connected he was straight to business. We first talked about his bill that he had recently drafted and wanted to call different officials about getting support or feedback for the bill. The bill went into specifics about the Detroit incinerator and how, since it was shut down due to the deadly chemicals in the neighborhoods, making sure no other permit was to be made and would be banned if there are over 400,000 people in the area - in this case there is.
We also started talking about how he could help drafting a bill if I ever had something in mind. In this case I started to tell him about the Fostering Futures Scholarship and how there was a recent bill created to expand the scholarship to trade schools as well as Colleges. I had mentioned to him how the more students that are accepted for the scholarship the less amount each student gets. I asked if there was a possibility to write a bill to expand funding while also mentioning the need of campus-based support programs for foster youth when entering college. I was even able to get a phone call with the Mayor of Detroit about it! My experiences were so amazing and I am so thankful for this opportunity and excited for my future in advocacy. I loved how the NFYI Michigan Chapter reached out to have me be a part of something so amazing and also how YOU (being former foster youth) have the opportunity to join this amazing group of people. NFYI is mainly foster care alumni who really want to see change in the system. As a former foster youth, this opportunity really helped open my eyes to the future of sharing my story to fix the system and it started with Shadow Day. This is my passion so I am so excited for these events later down the years and the woman I will become because of it.
June 10, 2019
The Art of Advocating
While going into the events I am asked to attend is not only a little nerve racking at times, each interaction sets up such a strong foundation for my future. I feel that when first starting to participate in events to advocate as a foster youth, I went into it as a learning experience to first learn how to efficiently tell my story and use it to help change the parts that need to be fixed. But what kept me going was how I saw the opportunity to meet and make connections with these people for later down the road. While I am pretty new at advocating, it is something I am very passionate about it and something that I believe will severely impact and change the lives of youth down the road. On June 6th and 7th I had the opportunity to go to Traverse City and participate on a panel during the HEC retreat. I was able to share my experience while also joining multiple conversations about the campus-based support programs within college campuses all through Michigan. I learned so much information specifically from the coordinators of their programs on how these programs are run and what the strengths and weaknesses of the program were. We talked specifically on lists of engaging and disengaging factors for a college student who has been through the system. Most importantly I was really grateful that my voice in these conversations felt heard. The panel was more an interactive discussion with the panelists and also the audience of coaches from campus based programs. I felt the discussion was on track the entire time and that the adults who were there really were passionate about changing the broken system and not just their for there job. I’m am so grateful to have these opportunities to share my voice and impact others to achieve greatness.
May 15, 2019
Testifying for a House Committee Hearing
On May 15th, 2019 I had the experience of testifying in front of a House Committee during a hearing about including trades in the Fostering Futures Scholarship. I didn't fully understand the importance of advocating as a former youth until I got the opportunity to change the outcome of a bill that will help multiple foster youth that graduate have a chance to receive proper funding and support to achieve their goals for their future, all just by sharing my story.
For me, I am quite new to the advocating and policy work of Fostering Success Michigan and The New Foster Care. I am grateful for the opportunity to be able to influence not only policymakers and legislators, but to reach out to other youth who have a chance to use their life situations to impact and change the lives and futures of other youth.
It was a bit overwhelming at first, but had I not been there, I noticed that the conversation around the actual effects of the bill, specifically how the Fostering Futures Scholarship impacts students, wouldn't have been a part of what the legislators would learn. I believe hearing my testimony, they were able to understand from my viewpoint, the effects of the scholarship while also hearing specifically how they can strengthen the scholarship.
While the Fostering Futures Scholarship itself was the main topic, I was also able to talk a little bit about the campus-based support program that I have been significantly impacted by. The CHAMPS support program at Wayne State University offered such helpful and reliable resources. I believe it is important for youth who have experienced foster care to receive the support and benefits of campus-based support programs such as CHAMPS. Their focus is to help youth who have aged out realize their educational aspirations while also offering workshops, emergency funding, tutoring, career mentoring, life-skills training and so many other helpful resources. I believe that the legislators really needed to understand that while the funds that youth receive through the scholarship are helpful, the campus-based programs offered are also just as helpful and also offer support. I am so thankful for this opportunity and the connections and skills that I've gained from it.
Arielle Duncan is a sophomore at Wayne State University studying communications. She is involved in the CHAMPS program and has been a The New Foster Care (TNFC) Youth Ambassador since November 2018. Arielle was one of two youth MDHHS sponsored as a FosterClub All Star in 2019. The FosterClub All Star internship program is a 6 week program that develops leadership skills the young person takes back to their state to impact areas of child welfare they are interested in. As a TNFC Ambassador, Arielle has served on numerous student panels, testified in front of a House Hearing Committee in relation to Fostering Futures Scholarship, and has represented Foster Success Michigan (FSM) nationally at the Grantmakers for Education Conference in New Orleans in October of 2019. She is the current FSM Student Ambassador for 2020 and has written policy-focused blogs for the FSM website.
Fostering Success Michigan is a program of Educate Tomorrow that aims to increase access and success in higher education and post-college careers for youth with experience in foster care. Learn how you can contribute to building a holistic network that insulates (i.e., strengthens protective factors and reduces risks) the education to career "pipeline."Make a Donation