Today@Sam Article

Student Aims To Build 'Home' For Foster Youth

Sept. 28, 2017
SHSU Media Contact: Lane Fortenberry

Story by Amanda Horn

ShelbyBradford2At any moment, there are approximately 428,000 children in foster care in the United States, according to the organization Children’s Rights. Some child welfare programs are severely damaged, which can result in the emotional harm of children. 

Statistics like this are the reason why one Sam Houston State University student is fighting to make a difference in the lives of children across America who grew up within the foster care system.

Shelby Bradford, a psychology major at SHSU, desires to bring foster youth together and to show them they have the potential to go far in life.

“I want to give them a chance to be something,” Bradford said. 

Bradford is currently involved in a dynamic nonprofit organization called Foster Club, which has been a leader for youth in foster care for over 17 years. Working hard and fast to create change in many different areas to support many of America’s foster youth is the club’s main purpose. 

Additionally, they provide services to help foster youth with Medicaid, education or anything they might need help with. 

“Foster club itself is the base connection that will help foster youth find resources,” Bradford said. 

Within Foster Club is an All-Star internship program that foster youth can apply for, which has been in place since 2004 by reaching out to other candidates through conferences, trainings and events.

Bradford was granted the opportunity to be a part of this internship during the summer, where she discovered a lot about herself and the world around her.

“It made things that I kind of pushed away more visible,” Bradford said.  

Going through a two-week training program on forming youth-adult partnerships, Bradford learned how to achieve milestones and show resiliency, allowing her to see things in a whole new light.ShelbyBradford1

“I realized that the past does not define the future because the future has not been defined yet,” Bradford said.

The program was founded on the belief that youth who have been successfully transitioned from foster care to responsible young adulthood, are best suited to impact the change of their younger peers, in addition to motivating, educating and empowering foster youth across America. 

“The foster club internship allows youth to have a voice, find an outlet and give them room to grow within themselves,” Bradford said. 

The Foster Club All-Stars raise awareness about the 400,000 children in foster care today and the 29,000 youth who transition from foster care every year, mostly without the support of a permanent and stable family.

The reason a club and internship like this is so important to Bradford is because she grew up in foster care for 12 years. She went through five foster homes, a group home, a shelter, and is now in extended care.   

Growing up in multiple foster homes brought on good and bad experiences for Bradford. For one, she did not know how to communicate or make friends because she was never taught to do so, but by living in different homes, she quickly learned how to speak up when she wanted something. Through her experiences, she was able to grow and be more prepared for the future. 

“I learned how to respect and accept people, and also how to listen and observe things,” Bradford said.

To help other foster care alumni attending SHSU, Bradford wants to start a student organization called ReachUP (Unlimited Potential). Designed to promote foster alumni’s personal growth through professional development programs, it will focus on establishing marketable skills and building professional networks for the members.                

“ReachUP will not only strengthen the confidence of former foster youth, but it will also enhance their ability to skillfully commit and communicate to pass on their wisdom to youth who may or may not have had a voice,” Bradford said.

Bradford hopes to reach as many foster youths as possible in every positive manner she can. Her goals are to hear their story, see their perspective and to be a helping hand by letting them know they are not alone and that their past does not limit their future. 

“It is not where you have come from, it is where you are going,” Bradford said.

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