When I first moved to Washington, DC in 2010, I knew I wanted to do something good for people, something worthwhile. I was introduced to the non-profit Congressional Coalition Adoption Institute through a friend at the church I had recently joined, who connected me with Becky Weichhand, the Director of Policy at the time.
They exposed me to the philosophy of “missional living” and that’s what the institute does – it's not missionary, and it’s not charity– it's life on a mission. I had no idea at the time, but CCAI would change my life, just like it changed the lives of so many former foster kids.
As soon as I got there, I was thrown into the Foster Youth Internship (FYI) Program. It’s a program that invites former foster kids to apply for a dual internship with CCAI and members of the House and Senate. They live in college dorms and spend their days working in Congressional offices and evenings and weekends working on policy papers they present in a briefing at the end of the summer. And of course, having fun (like a trip to Hershey Park) and attending financial literacy classes, going shopping with clothing stipends and generally having a great time in our nation's capitol (they are still largely kids, after all)!
These former foster kids had worked hard to be there. They had to be college graduates (only about 3% of kids who age out of foster care graduate from college) and they went through a lengthy application process. There are only 12 spots per summer, so the program is very selective.
2019 Applications are now live, by the way!
As for me and my co-workers, we pored over their applications and personal statements, oriented them to the program, supported them in their work in their offices, and eventually pulled all-nighters, helping these amazing young men and women put their policy recommendations into the right format and preparing them to brief members of Congress. These twenty-somethings were just getting started in their professional careers, had virtually outside no support, and we got to be an extended family. Of course, these young adults are all now are a part of CCAI’s forever family.
It’s one of the most amazing things I’ve ever been a part of, watching brave young kids who had grown up in foster care research a policy they had lived through or lived without – refining it and then presenting it to Congress to help kids who were still in foster care. Many of their policy recommendations were acted on and introduced as legislation.
Pictured here the 2012 class of Foster Year Interns, the Fall Class of Office interns, and 2012 CCAI Staff on the day the 2012 FYI’s presented their policy papers to members of congress in a briefing.
Fast forward to last month, at the National Adoption Month kickoff happy hour, where I was honored to hear a young lady named Keri Hope Richmond, who had been through the Foster Youth Internship program, as the master of ceremonies. A former foster child, she was now the one talking about the need for forever families, and explaining why so many now give to their “FYI Giving Tree” initiative for former foster kids, to help them with the basics most young adults need (in most states, once a foster kid turns 18, he’s completely on his own). She later talked to me about a program called "Fostering the Future" which is run by FYI program alumnus. Keri is the main liaison for the program.
Keri at the National Adoption Month Event, pictured above the "Giving Tree"
This group of former interns is now raising money to give back to the program they benefited from, to fully-fund CCAI for their work and to deepen the impact they can have on the lives of former foster youth.
Talk about paying it back and forward!
If you are looking for a great way to get involved in helping kids and young people (sounds like a great New Year’s Resolution) this is a great place to start. As anyone knows who has worked for a small non-profit organization, every dollar counts.
So your volunteer work, donation or in-kind contribution to CCAI makes a big difference.! To donate your time, in-kind, cash, or sponsorship visit or contact Kate McLean at [email protected] to learn more about supporting the Foster Youth Interns through Fostering the Future or FYI Giving Tree.
This is one of the organizations we are helping to sponsor in 2019 - not just because of the financial need, or the obstacles these young people have overcome, or our belief in kids and young people, but because we all need to be a part of something hopeful. We all need to focus on what we can do to improve the world around us. It’s the Christmas season after all!
By: Brooke M. Birkey
Shining bright, shining light
Creeps in round the bend
Who knew the end in sight
Would be the helping hand we lend
Perhaps a wish could be a dream
And a dream could be an action
Things aren’t as bleak as they may seem
Just need a little direction
Sweet hope creeps in so quietly
You may not see it’s eye
Hope restores the lonely
Brings back what could have died
To be the thing we think we need
Lies within our grasp
You may think there’s not power in the seed
But you didn’t stop to ask!
This article appears in our December edition of "the Brief" monthly newsletter. Want to subscribe to this free, story and info packed newsletter? Shoot me an email at [email protected] - I'll put you on the list today!