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 I 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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.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.