Former Foster Youth Excited For Opportunity On Capitol Hill

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2016 CCAI Foster Youth Intern Jennifer Rhodes, is originally from Baltimore, MD but grew up in East Tennessee. She is a recent graduate of Middle Tennessee State University with a degree in social work. She currently works in the U.S. House Committee on Ways and Means through CCAI’s Foster Youth Internship Program®.

I remember the day jennI received the phone call that I had been selected to be a part of the 2016 Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute’s (CCAI) Foster Youth Internship Program®. I could not believe it! A few short months later, it was such an amazing feeling at college graduation to walk across the stage knowing that I would soon be headed to the nation’s capital to work for Congress and be a part of this amazing program. Flying to Washington, D.C. was an adventure in itself. Although I had visited before on educational trips, I had never flown alone. I remember feeling so thankful I was able to have a window seat as the plane started to land, and I got an amazing view of the beautiful city. In that moment, I thought to myself, “I made it, I am really here!”

Even though I’m living in a new city with completely new surroundings, I honestly haven’t had a moment where I’ve felt afraid. If anything, I could not be more excited to be working with other former foster youth, just like me, in an environment where we can combine our voices and stories to create such a powerful impact. One of the most empowering aspects of CCAI’s Foster Youth Internship Program® is knowing that all I endured in the foster care system is guiding my passion in life, and I stand here strong, supported and empowered with my CCAI family and fellow interns Crystal, David, Demetrius, Erica, Jason, Kris, Ivy-Marie, Precious, Princess, Tori and Vaneshia.

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This experience has afforded me the opportunity to intern with the United States House Ways and Means Committee at a time when a prominent piece of child welfare legislation is being considered. There are 6 subcommittees: Tax, Trade, Oversight, Social Security, Human Resources, and Health. The Committee has empowered me to reach out to the Human Resources Subcommittee and understand how child welfare is handled. I even had the opportunity to attend a mark-up for the Families First Prevention Services Act of 2016 with all of the Committee members and staff! One of my favorite opportunities so far was meeting with the different subcommittees and learning about the responsibilities they hold. It is such a privilege to see all the hard work that goes on at Capitol Hill and I am especially thankful for the incredibly diverse exposure I have received by being in this office.

There is an amazing amount of thought and detail by the CCAI staff that goes into every opportunity the Foster Youth Interns have here. I’m informed, prepared, supported and have the knowledge to access any necessary information that surrounds me. When  arriving to Washington, D.C., all of us FYI’s had  orientation and retreat, both of which gave me such a great opportunity to be ready both emotionally and professionally, and build relationships with everyone in the program. Alongside our congressional internship, we are each working hard to write a policy report full of recommendations for Congress to address issues in the U.S. foster care system. I am really looking forward to presenting my policy report recommendations at briefings to both Congress and the White House in July. I am excited to use my voice to address the frequent placement changes children in the foster care system experience. Research shows, and I know from experience, that bouncing from placement to placement has a negative and painful impact on children that can leave lasting affects.

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I can already tell leaving Washington, D.C. will be hard at the end of the summer, especially saying goodbye to my Foster Youth Intern cohort, but I’m excited to use the knowledge I’ve gained to continue to speak on behalf of vulnerable children in the foster care system. I hope to soon begin a dual degree Masters Program in Public Health and Social Work. I would eventually like to come back to Capitol Hill or serve in an organization that focuses on reforming the juvenile justice system. I know that this opportunity with the CCAI Foster Youth Internship Program® will lead me in directions I didn’t even know were possible.

There is so much to be grateful for, but what I am most grateful for is each and every person who saw the value in this powerful program. I am grateful for each Foster Youth Intern, for all of the CCAI staff, and those who take the time to provide us with the training and support to do our best during our time in D.C. It is so empowering to know that I have been selected to represent this program and am being supported in reaching my dreams so other foster youth can reach theirs too.

You can encourage and support the 2016 Foster Youth Interns!

  • Send us an email or note of encouragement for the 2016 class and we’ll read it at their weekly community meeting where they work on their policy reports.
  • Contact Martina Arnold to learn more about ways you can participate in supporting the individual interns. There are various needs and opportunities surrounding the program each summer. We would be honored to have you join us in celebrating these young leaders.

Martina can be reached at martina@ccainstitute.org.

The Foster Youth Internship Program® is a signature program of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute. To learn more, visit us at www.ccainstitute.org

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Fostering Policy: Introducing CCAI’s 2016 Foster Youth Interns

Foster_Youth_logoEvery summer, one of CCAI’s great honors is to host 12 extraordinary young people on Capitol Hill in our Foster Youth Internship Program®. This unique program offers current and former foster youth from across the nation (now college students and recent graduates) the opportunity to participate in a prestigious congressional office internship assignment, and in addition, to use their own life experiences to inform the U.S. Congress about ways to improve the U.S. foster care system through the annual Foster Youth Internship Program® Report and Congressional Briefing.

In preparation for these high-impact writing and presentation components of the Foster Youth Internship Program®, these 12 young people will research issues facing children and youth in the U.S. foster care system, reflect and write about their own personal insights and research findings related to these issues, and offer positive policy solutions to improve the lives of the over 415,000 of children and youth currently in the U.S. foster care system. Previous Foster Youth Interns’ policy reports have led to new laws and policies and the introduction of recent bills like the Timely Mental Health Act of 2015.

The 2016 Foster Youth Interns began their congressional internships this week, and we want to introduce them to you!

crystalLilCrystal Dernier is an alumnus of Broward County’s foster care system and current Florida Atlantic University graduate student studying both criminology and non-profit management. This summer, LilCrystal is interning with U.S. Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) and she will research placement stability and healthy relationships for foster youth for her CCAI Policy Report.
princessPrincess Harmon is an alumnus of Wayne County, Michigan’s foster care system and recently graduated from Michigan State University with a degree in Communication. This summer, she is interning with the office of U.S. Representative Brenda Lawrence (D-MI). Inspired by her foster mom, Princess will research foster parent reimbursement rates and increasing financial support f or her CCAI Policy Report.

jasonJason Morin is an alumnus of Sarasota County, Florida’s foster care system. He recently graduated from the University of South Florida and is excited to start his first year of Law School at Florida International University this fall. Jason is interning with the U.S. Senate Finance Committee and he will research substance abuse and the child welfare system, including prevention and Family Drug Treatment Courts for his CCAI Policy Report.

EricaErica Ontiveros is an alumnus of Orange County’s foster care system. She recently graduated from California State University, Fullerton and she will attend her dream school, UCLA, in the fall to obtain her Masters in Social Work. This summer, she is interning with the U.S. Senate Finance Committee and she will research dual system-involved youth, focusing on the collaboration between the child welfare and juvenile justice systems for her CCAI Policy Report.
preciousPrecious Price is an alumnus of Connecticut’s foster care system and recently graduated with her Masters of Social Work from the University of Connecticut. This summer, she is interning with U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) and she will research the over-prescription of psychotropic medication for foster children and youth for her CCAI Policy Report.
vaneshiaVaneshia Reed spent her adolescent years in the Los Angeles County foster care system and most recently graduated from Harvard University with her Bachelors of Arts. Vaneshia is interning this summer with U.S. Representative Charles Rangel (D-NY). Vaneshia is excited to perform research about kinship care reform, including expanding a foster parent’s eligibility despite prior felony offenses for her CCAI Policy Report.
jennJennifer Rhodes is an alumnus of Tennessee’s foster care system and has continued to serve as a Peer Advocate for current foster youth. Most recently, she graduated from Middle Tennessee State University. Her internship placement is with the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee and she will research permanency, including foster parent training and support for her CCAI Policy Report.
davidDavid Rivera has had 18 placements in the Tulare County, California foster care system and will be adopted by his foster parents this fall. He currently studies Communications at the College of the Sequoias. David’s internship this summer is with U.S. Representative Karen Bass (D-CA), and he will be researching placement stability of LGBTQ foster youth, including foster parent recruitment and training for his CCAI Policy Report.
KrisKristopher Wannquist spent his teenage years in Washington State foster care system. He attends Washington State University, where he is a rising junior majoring in Psychology. This summer, Kristopher is interning with U.S. Representative Cathy McMorris-Rodgers (R-WA) and he will research extended foster care, including limiting eligibility and increasing accountability for his CCAI Policy Report.
ivyIvy-Marie Washington is an alumnus of Bexar County, Texas’s foster care system. Currently, she is a rising senior at Sam Houston State University where she is a Criminal Justice major. This summer, Ivy-Marie is interning in the office of U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) and is keenly interested researching about juvenile law and runaway foster youth prevention for her CCAI Policy Report.
ToriVictoria Wichman spent time in 12 Ohio foster homes and 2 group homes during her time in foster care. She currently attends Hillsdale College in Michigan, is studying Psychology, and is on the track team. Victoria is interning in the office of U.S. Representative Steve Scalise (R-LA) and she will research advocacy for foster youth for her CCAI Policy Report.
demetriusDemetrius Johnson is an alumnus of New York City’s foster care system and just graduated from St. John’s University. In the fall, Demetrius will be attending New York University and majoring in Business Management. His congressional internship this summer is in the office of U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and he will research adoption subsidies and limiting eligibility when adoption is dissolved for his CCAI Policy Report.

You can Encourage and support the 2016 Foster Youth Interns!

  • Send us an email or note of encouragement for the 2016 class and we’ll read it at their weekly community meeting where they work on their policy reports.
  • Contact Martina Arnold to learn more about ways you can participate in supporting the individual interns. There are various needs and opportunities surrounding the program each summer. We would be honored to have you join us in celebrating these young leaders.

Martina can be reached at martina@ccainstitute.org.

The Foster Youth Internship Program® is a signature program of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute.

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