A Special Message from a Foster Care Alumna to Our Veterans

A Special Message from a Foster Care Alumna to Our Veterans

from Tonisha Hora, CCAI 2017 Foster Youth Intern 

As we celebrate National Adoption Month and Veterans Day this November, the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI) honors all our Veterans, as well as our Foster Youth Interns and Angels in Adoption® Honorees who have served (and are serving) in our military. We asked Tonisha Hora, one of our 2017 Foster Youth Interns and a service member in the Army National Guard, to share about herself and offer a message to our Veterans.

Tonisha visits with Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan (R-WI), on the Speaker’s Balcony of the Capitol this summer during the Foster Youth Internship Program® Hill Day.

What is your current role in the Reserves?

Tonisha with her siblings

I am a Wheel Vehicle Mechanic as well as a Recovery Specialist/Operator in the Wisconsin Army National Guard.

What are your future goals? How are both your experiences in the Foster Youth Internship Program® and in the National Guard moving you in the direction of these goals?

Personally, my husband and I are excited for kids, whenever that may come, and I hope to be a foster parent one day as well as possibly adopt.

Professionally, I have so many aspirations which all involve helping people. Specifically, I am passionate about abused children and foster care, as well as numerous other humanitarian issues. I plan on pursuing a Master’s Degree in Social Work and/or Public Policy, or perhaps even a law degree, and continue to try to change policies that will help marginalized groups of people, including those I have mentioned.

Regarding CCAI, Being a Foster Youth Intern this summer at CCAI quite literally changed my life. It opened my eyes to new career paths and interests as well as opened a multitude of doors and connections. It was truly a blessing.

Tonisha with U.S. Senator Ron Johnson (WI), in who’s office she worked this summer.

The military has been helpful in my life in so many ways, too. The experience has really helped me solidify the mentality that I can do anything I aspire to do when I put in the effort. I’ve learned that giving 100% is essential, or you will not know your true potential. The military is truly my family and I cannot imagine not having them. And while I did not join for the college aid, today, I am so glad that I have it as a resource, because having been in foster care and not having family financial support, this has been a huge blessing financially. I am able to focus more on activities and volunteering in college that helped boost my resume and professional experiences, instead of being stressed about trying to make ends meet.


As we celebrate Veterans Day, what is your message to our veterans?

I just want to thank you all so much for your service and the sacrifice you and your families have made. You chose to possibly put your life on the line for others and that in itself is bravery and commitment. I applauded you and consider you an inspiration.

Tonisha Hora was a participant in the 2017 Foster Youth Internship Program®, one of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute’s signature programs. Special thanks to Jockey Being Family Foundation for sponsoring Tonisha’s participation in this elite internship program this summer as a member of our Sponsors Circle. To learn more about ways you can get involved with the Foster Youth Interns or National Adoption Month, please visit us at www.ccainstitute.org and contact Martina Arnold at martina@ccainstitute.org. 


2017 Adoption Gives Signature Line

CCAI Home Page | Donate Now | Contact Us

Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute
311 Massachusetts Ave, NE, Washington, DC 20002



Update on Tax Reform and the Adoption Tax Credit from the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI)

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Update on Tax Reform and the Adoption Tax Credit from the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute 

Last Thursday, the U.S. House of Representatives’ Ways and Means Committee proposed tax reform legislation that would eliminate the federal adoption tax credit. While the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI) does not lobby for or against or endorse individual bills, we are very committed to bringing objective, accurate information to Members of Congress and their constituents on all issues related to federal adoption and child welfare policy. We know that affordability of adoption is a key priority for many of the foster and adoptive parents we work with, and also that many adoptees and youth who experienced foster care or orphanages early in their lives share with us how access to financial resources are critical for the families that take them in.

The tax reform bill is currently being marked up in the Ways and Means Committee. CCAI’s strategic role as a bridge builder between the U.S. Congress, who have the power to influence policy, and foster and adoptive families and child welfare advocates who have personal experience on the realities of the barriers that they face in fostering and adopting children, has never been more critical than this moment. The voices of everyday citizens are very powerful, and we hope that a free flow of information moves back and forth between Members of Congress and their constituents throughout the days ahead as Congress actively considers tax reform and the future of the adoption tax credit. One such example is Anna Caudill, one of CCAI’s Angels in Adoption® from TN, who feels very strongly about the tax credit. In a tweet to U.S. Representative Mark Walker (R-NC) this weekend, Anna stated, “because of the #AdoptionTaxCredit, my boys are alive.”

We are not surprised, yet this is a CRITICAL moment. CCAI brought together the 150 member organizations of the Adoption Tax Credit Working Group several years ago, as Congress began to signal they were moving toward comprehensive tax reform. We anticipated the Adoption Tax Credit could possibly be eliminated, and organized the adoption and child welfare community to coordinate on a response if that ever were to happen. We proudly serve as the secretariat for this group. Through regular meetings, conference calls and a collaborative, relationship-based approach with the Adoption Tax Credit Working Group Executive Committee and Members of Congress over the past several years, we were well prepared to respond to Thursday’s legislative package that would formally eliminate the credit. And since the legislative package dropped, our staff have been working tirelessly to provide information and consultations with advocates and congressional staff to ensure that the voices of adoptive families and adoptees are reaching Capitol Hill as the markup of the bill began yesterday and deliberations on the adoption tax credit and tax reform will continue in the hours and days ahead. To learn more about the Adoption Tax Credit Working Group and ways your voice can be heard on Capitol Hill in the tax debate, please visit adoptiontaxcredit.org.

To keep up to date on the future of the adoption tax credit, or to learn more about the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute and our work with Congress and on behalf of children, youth and families, visit www.ccainstitute.org, sign up for our listserv, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

P.S. If you would like to support the work of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption, please consider giving a gift toward our #AdoptionGives Campaign this month. Every gift, up to $25,000, will be matched to double your gift and help us reach our total goal of $50,000.

With gratitude to our colleagues in The Adoption Tax Credit Working Group Executive Committee: American Academy of Adoption Attorneys & Sims Strategies, Adopt America Network, the Christian Alliance for Orphans, Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (Secretariat), Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, Donaldson Adoption Institute, National Council for Adoption, North American Council on Adoptable Children, RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association, Show Hope, and Voice for Adoption.

CCAI Home Page | Donate Now | Contact Us 

Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute
311 Massachusetts Ave, NE, Washington, DC 20002



“We Are the Keys” – CCAI’s 2017 Foster Youth Interns Release Report and Recommendations

The Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute Announces the Release of its 2017 Foster Youth Internship Program® Policy Report: Unlocking Potential: The Strength of Our Stories as the Key to Child Welfare Reform.

CCAI’s Foster Youth Interns present their policy report recommendations at a congressional briefing on July 18, 2017.

Congratulations to the 2017 CCAI Foster Youth Internship Program® class on the release of their policy report, Unlocking Potential: The Strength of Our Stories as the Key to Child Welfare Reform. Each of our 12 Foster Youth Interns spent the summer not only interning on Capitol Hill, but also writing a policy report on how to better the foster care system, using inspiration from their personal experiences. Tuesday, at a congressional briefing, our talented Foster Youth Interns presented this report containing 30 significant policy recommendations to Members of Congress, congressional staff and the child welfare community. For nine consecutive years, the FYI Program’s congressional policy report has provided the federal government with real solutions to some of its most challenging problems in the child welfare system. Previous reports have resulted in new federal laws and legislation that helped the over 415,000 of children in the U.S. foster care system.

Read the report HERE!

Read a summary of their recommendations below!

Justin Abasi (SC): Improving Access to and Awareness of Behavioral Health Services for Transition-Age Adolescents in Out-of-Home Care

  • Congress should amend Section 477 of the Social Security Act to improve the availability of trauma-informed, evidence-based psychosocial services to transition-age adolescents via additional grants and technical assistance.
  • Congress should amend Section 477 of the Social Security Act to improve the accessibility of trauma-informed, evidence-based psychosocial services to transition-age adolescents via additional funding for wraparound services.
  • Congress should amend Section 475(5)(G) of the Social Security Act to ensure that transition-age adolescents are aware of how they can access those services.

Keola Limkin (HI): Ensuring Normalcy for Foster Youth by Establishing Youth-Friendly Children’s Ombudsman Offices

  • Congress should require states to establish a youth-friendly Children’s Ombudsman Office (COO)/Office of the Child Advocate (OCA) in every US State.
  • Congress should ensure that COO/OCA are established independently with oversight of child welfare services.
  • Congress should ensure that COO/OCA have online complaint filing forms that are youth friendly.

Michael Teresa Mellifera (OH): Reforming the Criminal Justice System’s Response to Delinquency: Ensuring Equity of Access to Diversion Programs for Crossover Youth

  • “Congress should add another core compliance requirement to the JJDPA called “Disproportionate Crossover Youth Contact,” or DCYC, which shall become a condition for receipt of the Title II Formula Grants Program.”
  • Congress should require the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to create a joint-commission tasked with developing uniform federal standards for graduated sanctions systems and diversion program eligibility, with particular focus on crossover youth issues.

Tonisha Hora (WI): Saving Children’s Lives by Implementing an Interstate Data Sharing System and Minimum Screening Standards

  • For the safety of children, Congress should implement certain minimum and uniform standards regarding state policies that govern central registries of child abuse and neglect reports and the expunction of those reports. A new federal minimum standard should specify that any two or more reports of a specific child must be screened-in and an investigation required. In addition, record of reports should be maintained for no fewer than 25 years or even indefinitely.
  • Congress should require states to participate in an interstate data sharing network of information in states’ central registries of child abuse and neglect reports and require that all reports made (screened-in and screened-out) be retained.
  • Congress should require HHS to convene an expert panel to guide the technical and legal aspects of implementing these recommendations. The panel should advise on policies to ensure privacy rights of children and adults.

Demontea Thompson (CA): Anomalies No More: Modifying Education and Training Vouchers (ETC) to Enhance Postsecondary Educational Attainment for Foster Youth

  • Congress should make postsecondary education more accessible to current and former foster youth by increasing the ETV from $5,000 to $10,000 in the ETV to account for the rise in tuition, living expenses, and rent.
  • Congress should amend the ETC to include the provision to allow foster youth to pay for college related expenses before they enroll.

Alexis Arambul (WA): Reducing the Number of Foster Youth Placements through Youth-Centered Strategies

  • Congress should require state child welfare agencies to use youth-centered recruitment models based on evidence-based strategies and best practice models.
  • Congress should collect quantitative data from states who utilize technological services targeted to child welfare agencies to help match children with foster families

Htet Htet Rodgers (LA): Low Hanging Fruit: Harnessing the Data States Already Collect

  • Congress should create a national foster youth taxonomy so that transferring data between states is easier.
  • Congress should require states to transfer data annually to the federal government so it can produce a public report.
  • Congress should create accounts for foster youth with the taxonomy, so they can access their records when needed.

Jameshia Shepherd (MI): Leveling the Playing Field through Awareness to a World of Educational Opportunity

  • Congress should mandate that an educational and career expert participate at biannual case planning meetings for youth in care starting at age 14, and ensure accountability through the case review process.
  • Congress should ensure that youth who are preparing to exit foster care are aware and utilizing educational resources, Congress should strengthen the time period for planning and completing the transition plan by including an educational plan with the youth’s assigned case planning educational expert 365 days before the youth exits care.

Tiffany Boyd (CA): Simply Put: We Deserve Quality

  • Congress must direct the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to establish an expert panel that includes researchers, program directors, parents, youth, and other community partners to reassess the CFSR measures as they pertain to the quality of care standard.
  • Congress needs to examine the outcomes of state CFSRs and Performance Improvement Plans and develop policies such as incentives, to ensure that states do more to improve the quality of services for children and youth in foster care. Federal policies could establish certain standards for quality of services, similar to how the federal government established quality of care standards for federally funded health services; states who exceed the standard in the CFSR should be allotted an incentive payment or an increased matching rate.
  • Congress should require each state agency responsible for overseeing the care of our children to establish within their charter, a commission comprised of stakeholders including but not limited to current and emancipated clients, legal guardians, custodial grandparents, and parents who lost then regained the custody of their children, elected government officials, representatives of state agencies. Every director should meet with this commission regularly to utilize these individuals’ first-hand experience and specialized knowledge as it pertains to navigating the system and needs to require the consent of the commission when introducing new strategies, implementing new policies, and seeking innovative ideas to transform the child welfare system.

Eden Harris (D.C.): Virtual Success Coaches: Connecting Foster Youth with Modern Technology

  • Congress should fund a competitive pilot program that assigns virtual success coaches to millennials/generation Z between ages 14 and 18 using a virtual platform.
  • Congress should extend federal loan forgiveness to eligible success coaches to encourage the participation of highly qualified individuals.

Alexandria Ware (KS): Increasing Social Emotional Support for Foster Youth on College Campuses by adding a Single Point of Contact Models and Mentors

  • Congress should require every higher education institution that receives federal financial aid to establish a “Single Point of Contact” (SPOC) model for students who were previously in foster care.
  • Congress should require that, when a university receives a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form with “yes” for Section 2, Question 2 that the university contact the matriculating student to ask if he or she may be identified as foster youth for additional supports, like mentors.

Jameelah A. Love (WI): Foster Care Bill of Rights

  • Congress should direct the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to develop a federal foster care bill of rights for youth in foster care. To develop the foster care bill of rights, HHS should convene a workgroup comprised of foster youth, foster and birth parents, caseworkers and other agency staff, judicial officials, children’s advocates.
  • Congress should amend the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act by requiring that youth receive a list of rights starting at age 12 so that they are aware of their rights and to receive an annual updated document.
  • Congress should enforce the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act pertaining to foster youth being given a list of these federal rights and that stakeholders (judges, attorneys, caseworkers, medical professionals, foster parents etc.) are given training on what rights are afforded to foster youth.

We thank all of our Foster Youth Interns for their hard work this summer, and look forward to keeping you updated on the results of their recommendations. To learn more about CCAI’s Foster Youth Internship Program® and see this incredible program at work, click here.

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.



Champions for Change: CCAI’s 2017 Foster Youth Interns

Every summer, CCAI proudly welcomes twelve young professionals with former experience in the foster care system to participate in our Foster Youth Internship Program® on Capitol Hill. This innovative program allows college students and recent graduates from around the country to participate in highly sought after internships in congressional offices and committees. Interns are also encouraged to share their unique foster care experiences through the annual Foster Youth Internship Program® Report and Congressional Briefing to inform members of The U.S. Congress of areas within the foster care system in need of modification and improvement.

Through the duration of the Foster Youth Internship Program®, each intern will vigorously explore issues that currently impact over 428,000 children and youth in the U.S. foster care system and develop ideas for solutions to these problems based off of extensive research and their own personal insights. These findings will then be compiled into a policy report that will be presented during the annual Congressional Briefing. Policy reports written by former Foster Youth Interns have led to the introduction of new policies and bills, as well as regulations and laws.

Our 2017 Foster Youth Interns have finally arrived and we are excited to introduce them to you!


Justin Abbasi is an undergraduate junior majoring in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology with a minor in Global Health Studies at Yale University. Justin has served on a state-wide South Carolina youth advisory board and currently works at a non-governmental think tank that helps the Connecticut Department of Children and Families improve child welfare. He designed an epidemiological study that seeks to identify social support for youth in out-of-home care that he looks to conduct next year. Justin also has a strong passion for public speaking, which pushes him to use his voice to help youth who struggle to find theirs. He hopes to continue researching and using his voice to address mental health services for youth in out-of-home care during his time on Capitol Hill.


Alexis Arambul is an undergraduate senior at Washington State University- Pullman who expects to graduate in May of 2018. Alexis is majoring in Political Science with a pre-law focus. Alexis desires to use her experiences in the foster care system to influence child welfare at the national level and follow her passion for helping youth find safe and permanent homes. Alexis seeks to provide foster children with the opportunity to thrive and improve their lives.


Tiffany Boyd is a former client of the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services. She spent 10 years in care and has spent the following 10 years since then traveling and advocating for reform of the child welfare system. She is a resident of Long Beach California and is a full-time Public Administration major at California State University Dominguez Hills. Tiffany has been recently appointed as a Commissioner on the Citizens Oversight Committee for Proposition HHH to oversee 1.2 billion dollars designated to be used towards the eradication of homelessness in the city of Los Angeles. She aspires to one day start her own non-profit organization geared towards utilizing emancipated and post-transition age foster youth to assist foster youth who are still in care navigate the system successfully.


Eden Harris will graduate from North Carolina Wesleyan College in May of 2018. She is passionate about foster youth who age out of the foster care system experiencing healing through entrepreneurship. Eden wishes to help foster youth overcome the challenges they face by showing others that exterior events cannot govern their internal condition. Eden’s goal is to build a clearer path to success that is full of useful resources for foster youth through social entrepreneurship. She hopes to become a business lawyer who helps entrepreneurs start businesses, particularly those focusing on foster care.


Tonisha Hora is an undergraduate senior majoring in Human Development and Family Studies with a minor in Social Work at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. Since attending UW-Stout, her passion for advocacy has developed through her social work classes and community involvement, which have equipped her with a strong understanding of macro-level policies and solutions. While on Capitol Hill, Tonisha plans to advocate for the prevention of abuse and neglect so that more children can live in healthy and happy homes.


Keola Limkin is a recent graduate of the University of Hawaii, where he earned Bachelor’s Degrees in Psychology and Communication. Keola’s participation on the HI HOPES Board and with EPIC ‘Ohana has helped shape his advocacy work experience. His interest in policy work with nonprofit organizations has inspired him to work on child welfare reform, specifically through the monitoring of foster youth grievance processes and helping foster youth participate in normal activities, build their social capital, and engage in healthy risk-taking activities to successfully transition into adulthood.


Jameelah A. Love is pursuing an undergraduate degree in Political Science at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and hopes to become a Guardian Ad Litem to elevate the a voices of foster youth. As the President of Wisconsin’s Youth Advisory Council, Jameelah works to bring awareness to the need for positive reform of foster care and the empowerment of foster youth. Jameelah works as a Youth Empowerment and Support Specialist at a local nonprofit, and also as a Young Adult Consultant with the ICF Capacity Building Center for States. She is also currently working on her own initiative, The J.A. Love Project, which focuses on promoting anti-violence living, improving impoverished areas and encouraging youth engagement.


Michael Teresa Mellifera is an undergraduate sophomore majoring in Philosophy. Her decision to also minor in Theology and Islamic World Studies stems from her interest in empowering disadvantaged peoples through volunteer work, such as foster children, the recently incarcerated and religious minorities subject to discrimination. Michael hopes to attend graduate school to continue studying the languages, philosophies, and histories of the Near East. While on Capitol Hill, Michael will focus on diversion strategies in the juvenile justice system, specifically for at-risk male teenagers also involved in the child welfare system. She believes that incarceration exposes young people to high levels of violence, abuse and trauma which makes them more likely to re-offend upon their release. Whenever appropriate, Michael believes that youth should be diverted from traditional correctional facilities to more restorative and developmentally healthy institutions.


Htet Htet Rodgers is an undergraduate junior majoring in Psychology at Northwestern State University of Louisiana-Natchitoches. Htet Htet was a participant in the White House Foster Care Hackathon, where she successfully developed an application with Microsoft to help mothers dealing with addictions. Htet Htet’s past experience with the Department of Child and Family Services has helped her participate in proposing and renewing child welfare legislation in Louisiana. Due to her first-hand experience with foster care, Htet Htet is passionate about raising awareness to federal policymakers about the needs of foster youth.


Jameshia Shepherd is a graduate student at Michigan State University pursuing a Master’s Degree in Social Work with a focus on Community Engagement. Jameshia previously traveled to Washington, D.C. to participate in the 2016 Foster Youth Shadow Day. Through this experience, she was inspired to seek out a profession that enables her to assist and empower youth who are faced with challenges that brought them into the child welfare system. Jameshia graduated in May of 2017 with her Master’s in Social Work and she hopes to attend law school to achieve her dream of directly working with the child welfare system at the federal level.


Demontea Thompson is a graduate student at the University of Southern California earning a Master’s Degree in Postsecondary Administration and Student Affairs. Demontea’s involvement in extracurricular activities as an undergraduate student inspired him to use his voice to empower youth who do not have the opportunity to advocate for themselves. To share his story and motivate those from similar backgrounds, Demontea authored, Raised from Scratch, an inspirational autobiography that documents his experiences in the foster care system and his quest for higher education and self-sufficiency. Demontea’s work with non-profit organizations, such as the California Youth Connection and United Friends for the Children, ignited his passion to serve as a positive role model for the youth in his community. He is a Compton native who would love to run for office in the near future.


Alexandria Ware is a graduate student at Oklahoma State University-Tulsa pursuing a Master’s Degree in Human Development and Family Science. Alexandria co-founded Fostering Success, a program that seeks to provide college students in or exiting from the foster care system with resources and skills, along with connections to mentors. Alexandria’s goal is to advocate for those in foster care with the hope of establishing a center where foster youth will have access to tutoring, mentoring and assistance for future college admissions.


You can Encourage and support the 2017 Foster Youth Interns!

  • Send us an email or note of encouragement for the 2017 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.


New Congress = New Opportunities


It’s a New Year and a new Congress, which means there are new opportunities for Members to champion child welfare and adoption issues! That’s why CCAI is hosting a bipartisan New Congress Forum on Child Welfare and Adoption on Capitol Hill on February 15th. Due to space limitations, this event is limited to Members only. ALL Members of the 115th Congress are invited to discuss their child welfare and adoption interests and priorities – both domestic and international.

Why? Every child should know the love of a family.

Are YOUR Members of Congress planning to participate? Please help us spread the word by simply inviting your Members to attend! Thank you for your support!

Thank you to our Honorary Co-Hosts:


The Congressional Resource Program is a signature program of CCAI. To learn more or to engage, please visit our website.


How Foster Care Adoption Saved My Life


In anticipation of National Adoption Day, CCAI interviewed Latena Hazard, a 2016 CCAI Fall Policy Intern, about her experiences in foster care and as an adoptee. Latena is from Worcester, Massachusetts, is a second-year law school student at Catholic University and believes every child deserves to be heard. We agree and hope you enjoy reading about her reflections on adoption from foster care.

Latena with her mother, Phyllis, and sister, Latoya, on Latoya’s wedding day.

CCAI: How did being placed into foster care make you feel?

Latena: I didn’t understand the concept of foster care until I was roughly 7 years-old. Being in the foster care system gave me a sense of loneliness and that I didn’t belong. As children moved in and out of the house, you never knew if you were next. There were times when we were threatened with removal and school transfers. Foster care turned me into a people pleaser, afraid to do any wrong and always wanting and craving the acceptance of others. I always had questions that couldn’t be answered; mainly, why was I placed in foster care? Looking for and not receiving answers made me question my self-worth.

CCAI: What were the difficulties you experienced in foster care?

Latena: I think the most difficult thing about being in the foster care system was keeping and maintaining fulfilling friendships. I battle with attachment issues, and it became difficult trusting people enough to establish a connection. My foster home always had children coming and going, and I just always thought, “why build a connection when they’ll end up leaving anyways?”

CCAI: Tell us about your adoption story.

Latena: My sister Latoya and I were placed into foster care at the age of two and adopted together at the age of six. We were adopted by an amazing couple, Joseph and Phyllis Hazard. My parents were in their late 50’s when they adopted us. About that same time, they adopted Kristina Rose, and she became our little sister. Three years later our father passed away and although my heart was broken, I was grateful to be in my mother’s care. Because of these unfortunate circumstances, it left my mom with little help, and, eventually, Latoya and Kristina were taken out of the home. Latoya was placed in a foster home with terrible living conditions and Kristina went into a group home. While Kristina was placed back into the foster care system, I am forever grateful that my sister Latoya and I were reunited with my adoptive mom shortly after, and Kristina came back home a couple years later.

CCAI: Why is family important to you?

Latena: Family is the foundation of society in my opinion. They say you can’t choose your family, but in adoption, you’re someone’s choice. Having a family provides you with a better understanding of self, builds your self-confidence, secures your values and helps with communication skills. My family is everything to me; without them I would not be the person I am today. They are always there to guide me and give encouragement, to cheer me up when I’m down and to let me know that things will get better. They are my rock, and the reason I continue to do my best. I tell my mom every day that she’s the biggest blessing that could have ever happened to me.

CCAI: What are some of your proudest accomplishments?

Latena: I wouldn’t be where I am had it not been for my mom adopting me. I have accomplished a lot over the last few years. My biggest accomplishment is being a member of the United States Navy on board the U.S.S. Essex and my current service in the U.S. Navy Reserves. I have traveled the world to protect and defend against foreign and domestic threats.

In addition, I battled the stereotype associated with foster care and education. High school was difficult, and I barely graduated. Achieving academic success wasn’t on my radar. However, in 2012, I graduated Magna Cum Laude from Howard University, then went on to receive my Masters in Journalism from The Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Now, I plan to obtain my law degree from The Catholic University Columbus School of Law in 2018. Once I graduate from law school, I hope to practice family law and work on cases that will allow foster care children to have a voice. The desire to persevere and achieve was instilled in me during my time in foster care, and although it’s been a difficult journey I am proud of where I am today.

CCAI: Why is celebrating National Adoption Day significant?

Latena: National Adoption Day addresses a problem that needs to be dealt with in U.S. foster care. Adoption provides children with a loving, secure, structured environment to excel and be happy. There is so much that one person can do to bring joy into the life of a child.

National Adoption Day is one of CCAI’s signature focuses during National Adoption Month each November.