First and foremost, I would like to thank National Foster Youth Institute (NFYI) for the opportunity to shadow Congressman Ron Estes (R-KS)! I would like to extend my greatest appreciation to Congresswoman Karen Bass for allowing former foster youth to be able to have this voice with our Members of Congress. This opportunity to shadow a freshman in Congress was enlighten and sparked more of my interest to want to be more involved in politics.
Now before I can tell you about my experience shadowing Congressman Estes, I first must discuss some of the events and details that lead up! While being that I currently live in Oklahoma but grew up in foster care in Kansas I was blessed to be able to shadow someone from Kansas even though I was selected from Oklahoma. Friday, May 18th is the day that the journey leading up to us shadowing our members started. I finally got to meet everyone in my pod who wasn’t from Oklahoma! I love my pod members and pod leader, because we were all around the same age and were very grateful for the opportunity to be in DC. Now I’m not saying that other pods and participants weren’t but I wasn’t as close with them as my own pod.
Now there were many different activities that we did to prepare us to be able to talk to our members. Now my favorite activity we did was the town hall in the Capitol Building. I’m a person who loves to see and understand other people’s thought process. This town hall was excellent because we had a variety of U.S. Representatives who took time out of their busy day to come talk and answer our questions. I maybe a bit bias but I would say I enjoyed the fact when I asked Rep Bass “ What was being done for former foster youth on secondary education campuses for youth to stay?” She told me that I would be working on that for former foster youth! Which made me extremely happy to hear someone say since I just graduated with my Master’s degree and was applying for jobs out in the field. From the town hall I was able to prepare the things I would like to discuss with Rep Estes while I was shadowing him. Now being on the Hill last summer I was able to have a pre-understanding of how things work and what needs to be done so that it can run in a orderly fashion. The morning of shadow day we got to eat breakfast on the Hill while we waited on our members or their staff to show up. I will say that my Member of Congress was in a meeting, so his Child Welfare LA showed up and I got to meet everyone who worked in the office. Now, being an intern the summer before it was unique to back and have an understanding how things run. Now it being Rep Estes freshman year in Congress I got to do many different things as someone shadowing him then a intern. Let me tell you that man’s schedule is jammed packed and he is always running back and forth. I was able to run into the fellow Reps from Kansas which is really unique because Rep Marshall remembered me from last summer which was amazing because it felt like I was back on the hill making connections and bringing foster youth voices. I got to meet Rep Lynn Jenkins (she is a fellow K-State Alumni)! I was able to educate fellow Members of Congress who had seen us Shadows who were wearing our blue stoles on The Hill before my conservation was cut short because I wasn’t allowed on the floor but instead I went to the House gallery. The cool thing about Rep Estes is he decided to do shadow day because he heard about it and wanted to have more information. Now I will say being from Kansas I don’t see a lot of members who are concerned about foster care. So it was nice that he wanted to learn more and become more involved. Thank you Rep Bass, Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth and Rep Estes for making my shadow day great and educational. His future involvement will help more former foster youth tell their stories. I appreciate everything you are doing for former foster youth.
Now I would be lying if I didn’t say there were some challenges getting to shadow day from this cohort. Maybe because I interned on the Hill already and I wasn’t for some of the things I saw but I will say this. I’ve learned that advocacy isn't always pretty and some individuals who are advocates did not have the same training as myself which made it hard to comprehend some of the things there were doing.
Now being the 7th Shadow Day there are going to be bumps in the road which is expected and you have to know how to fix them. Some of the issues that occured where things that somehow someone missed making sure people’s diet restrictions were met. Which in this day and time can be hard and maybe it was hard for the school to provide the options to NFYI but nobody should be without food. Now I am not blaming or trying to hurt anyone in this process but it’s important for us to look back and reflect on how everyone’s shadows day may have been different. For example I believe allowing the shadows to have a town hall to discuss all the issues that they had happen up to that point.This should us what to expect on for our town later that day but also showed us how to our voices in a healthy manner.
One thing that hindered my experience was having advocates who didn’t have a lot of training and expertise like some of the older advocates. In which it made it hard for things to get and sessions start on time if the pod leaders had to go find and hurt down everyone. Maybe it was the process of how individuals were picked of if they have done nothing to one thing they were picked and they had done more than 5 they were put in a maybe pile, so you ended up with more people who had not advocated on a National or State level so the dynamics of the group was off. Now this our some of the issues that stood out to me and made me wonder what past shadow days were like and did they face some of the same issues or did they just get pushed to the side. I don’t believe this was a bad experience because of the individuals in my group but I will say that my group dynamics were completed different than most. It felt like a family after just meeting each other and I can’t wait for them to come visit soon! I am beyond grateful for this experience and opportunity but I wish that some of the individuals there understood how much bigger and greater this was than themselves. The impact of change that we could have by being on the Hill for just a few hours was truly a huge impact of the US Representatives as well as ourselves. The discussions had with our members can change and impact the child welfare system in a manner that individuals may not understand.
Once again, would like to thank National Foster Youth Institute (NFYI) for the opportunity to shadow Congressman Ron Estes (R-KS)! I would like to extend my greatest appreciation to Congresswoman Karen Bass for allowing former foster youth to be able to have this voice with our Members of Congress. This opportunity to shadow a freshman in Congress was enlighten and sparked more of my interest to want to be more involved in politics. Thank you Rep Estes and his staff for a wonderful day shadowing you! I hope to see wonderful things about welfare coming from your office.