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Alum Editorial

Education Became My Compass to the Future and My Key to Permanence

Ashley Jackson
2010 FosterClub All-Star

Today, more than 420,000 children in the US foster care system struggle with issues including sibling separation, permanency, education and reunification. I was once one of these statistics—a young person who spent five years in foster care, uncertain of what my future would hold. I was one of hundreds of thousands of youth trying to navigate my way through a complex system. As if being 16 isn’t a difficult enough time in a youth’s life, adding foster care to the list of obstacles didn’t make things any easier.

Finding a Compass

When I entered the system in my teens, I lived with my aunt and uncle in kinship care. Living with these people was totally new to me; I had to learn how to live in a new house, work part time at a new location and adjust to a new lifestyle. I felt a great deal of anxiety and uncertainty.

It became clear to me that I needed a compass—something I could use to guide me to a future that would be under my control. The compass I found was education. For any negative situation in life I was experiencing, I would channel all my energies into my schoolwork and extracurricular activities.

Education was something that I was in control of. I knew that through hard work and dedication, education would be my ticket. Growing up in a family in which a small percentage graduated high school—let alone went on to higher education—I decided early on in life that I didn’t want this for myself. Education was my escape from the cycle and my chance at breaking the trend. What served as my distraction before entering foster care became even more of an ambition and primary focus once in care.

What I Had Going for Me

Since leaving foster care, I’ve learned that I had an advantage over many other young people in care in that I had supportive adults who enabled me to participate fully in extracurricular activities. Throughout the remainder of high school and my time living with my aunt and uncle, I took time to explore and learn so many things through extracurricular activities. I was sure that when I had play practice, student council meetings or a Future Business Leaders of America conference I would be able to attend. My education was in my hands, and my family now served as a support system.

Another key advantage was the ability to stay in the same school. Before entering care and moving 40 minutes away, I was not sure I would be allowed to stay in the district I had attended since kindergarten. However, through the support of my caseworker, juvenile officer and attorney, I was able to advocate effectively for a court order from the judge allowing me to stay. Not having the disruption of switching schools provided me with stability when I entered care.

Participation in extracurricular activities helped shape me into the person I am today. These activities taught me responsibility and led me to independence. They also allowed me to discover my strengths and develop skills that would translate into educational and career interests. If there is one piece of advice I could give to CASA volunteers, it would be to encourage and advocate for foster youth to be given a chance to become involved at school and pursue their interests.

Over the past three years, education has enabled me to plot a route through another obstacle common among foster youth: a lack of permanency. After graduating high school and making the transition to college, I lost what I thought was a permanent connection with my aunt. Permanence is a word that means different things to different people and, for me, one that has changed its meaning over time. However, I’ve finally found what I have been searching for. Through college, I have been able to establish connections with peers that I know are lifelong bonds.

Knowing that I have a tight group of people who are willing to help me through struggles, give me advice and be there for me when I really need it means the world to me. This has become my permanence, and without higher education I do not know that I would have found it. Now that I finally have this, my advice to other youth would be to determine how they would like to define permanence and create a plan to make it happen.

As a CASA volunteer, you can help young people explore what permanence means to them and take steps to establish it. You can assist them in making connections to supportive adults and peers that will get them through their transition to adulthood and carry them through life.

A Future with Promise

Today, I am a senior at Missouri State University and will be graduating in May with a degree in public relations. My foster care experience has helped carry me to where I am today. I am hopeful and confident about my future. My experiences—including the situations I lived through while in my mother’s care, the challenges I overcame while in kinship care and most of all my pursuit of education—have contributed to my character today. I have a drive to succeed in life, and I have faith that will happen. Education has served as a guiding force through foster care and my continuing transition to adulthood. It has kept me from becoming just another statistic.

"Permanence is a word that means different things to different people. I have been able to establish connections with peers that I know are lifelong bonds. Knowing that I have a tight group of people who are willing to help me through struggles, give me advice and be there for me when I really need it means the world to me."

After five years in kinship care, Ashley is now living independently with roommates while attending university. She aspires to a career in nonprofit event planning and fundraising. Ashley’s dream is to find an occupation where she can have an impact on the lives of others and serve as an inspiration. Learn about her contributions as a 2010 All-Star at FosterClub.com 

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Anonymous @ 5/12/2011 7:28:00 AM 
Sara @ 5-12-11
Ashley, This is an inspiration for all young foster children who cannot be restored into their homes. You looked to the future, grabbed onto what you had in your control and fought your way through your demons and disappointments. As a fairly new CASA volunteer, your story nudges us (my husband and I work as a team) to continue to speak for children like you who are striving to improve their lives. Thanks for sharing your story. Please continue to do so, for you never know who you will help to through the rough times of foster care and the adjustments in their life. Hope is always the stay of those who are struggling.

I pray God will always be your strength and stay in times of need and in times of joy!
Anonymous @ 5/9/2011 4:22:05 PM 
Thank you for sharing your story, Ashley. Your commencement is here and I wish you happinesss and success in all your future endeavors. You should be very proud of yourself by overcoming your obstacles in life to reach your achievements in life.
Please don't stop sharing your story until the right person hears and creates a Hallmark movie about it to inspire others who are in the situation that you rose out of.
Anonymous @ 5/7/2011 10:18:13 AM 
Praise God for your determination to achieve an education and to focus on the things that you can control!!! You are an inspiration and a great role model to so many young people in foster care and struggling families!!! I want to encourage you to share your story in schools and churches and to plant the seeds of hope and a vision for the future into the lives of other young adults!!!
Anonymous @ 5/6/2011 12:51:06 PM 
Because of youths' LACK of control over certain aspects of their lives, which causes a great deal of not only angst, but anger, I feel it's important to suggest to youth for whom we advocate that they do indeed have opportunities to control some of their environment, i.e., achieving good grades with the goal of attending college, diet, an exercise program, personal hygiene, and pride in what they do achieve. Thanks for helping me understand that there is much more I can do. Best wishes to you Ashley - you ARE an all-star!

Susan Baldwin
Anonymous @ 5/5/2011 6:51:12 AM 
how wondeful. i just hope some day i will see the same thing in a child i help.I will pray for you and keep you in my heart,Keep up the good work.

J beeney
Anonymous @ 5/4/2011 8:45:50 PM 
This is an awesome and inspiring story Ashley! It is often our toughest endeavours that change us for the better. I give you a lot of credit. Congrats on your success thus far and your continued success in the future! You are an inspiring young woman and you will go far!

Anonymous @ 2/22/2011 7:52:38 PM 
Thank you for sharing your story and reinforcing the value of higher ed. This is especially inspiring given these tough budgetary times for things like higher ed. Our kids deserve a solid education. That is an American promise and tradition and higher ed is for ALL young people (and even older folks).
Anonymous @ 2/20/2011 8:12:46 AM 

Thank,you for sharing your story and I ws touched deeply by it. I am a CASA volunteer and stories like this makes us CASA's want to reach out to all children who are in the system. I am really proud of you,even though I do not know you. To me being a CASA volunteer and helping children and youth brings us together as a family. This is awesome and you are an awesome person. Hold your head up high smile and the sky is the limit. Be blessed always! From a CASA volunteer.
Anonymous @ 2/19/2011 12:24:00 AM 
Go baby go! You are such an inspiration to all youth advocates working to better the child welfare system! Keep your head high and you WILL go far!
Anonymous @ 2/18/2011 2:38:58 PM 

I am so inspired by your story! My daughter is a CASA volunteer and I have friends that work in the court system. I hear so many sad and, often times, tragic stories about the kids that are caught up in "the system." You are such a wonderful role model and your story gives other kids hope for their future! Hope is so important...just as important as the air we breathe, as you well know. Never stop sharing your story...it has unlimited potential to change lives!!

God bless you in all your endeavors,
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