“We did summer programs. We did two days in community service and then a day doing something fun. We cleaned up a garden in Richmond and it was a lot of fun and had a day at Busch Gardens.”
Youth Network Participant
Do you want a chance to have fun and at the same time learn from other youth in foster care? Do you have experiences from your life in foster care that are worth sharing? Do you have it in you to help yourself and others who are aging out of foster care?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then get involved in Project LIFE. It’s your chance to have your voice heard, and your voice CAN make a difference. If you don’t feel comfortable with public speaking, there are other ways you can take action, such as being part of the planning committees, giving your input in statewide conferences, telling your story through Project LIFE’s youth spotlight and more. Join Project LIFE’s Youth Network to get involved in all these opportunities.
What’s in it for me?
By getting involved, you will:
- Gain skills you will need to become a successful adult.
- Create new relationships with adults and peers.
- Connect to your community.
- Enlarge your support network.
- Learn to advocate for yourself and others on a local, regional and state level.
- Feel needed and useful.
Conference Planning and State Conferences
Twice a year, Project LIFE conducts a statewide Youth Conference to provide youth with information about advocacy, the Youth Network, and other topics. A planning committee, consisting of Project LIFE staff and youth, come together to plan the conferences, from the theme, to the activities and food, and everything in between. Members of the Youth Network are eligible to be a part of this planning committee. Youth from across the state take part in activities and in workshops that are related to different aspects of foster care in Virginia.
Youth Network Meetings
Youth Network Meeting are held at community colleges, Virginia Department of Social Services agencies and other locations. The central region meetings are always held on the UMFS Campus in Richmond.
If you participate in your region’s Youth Network meetings, you can:
- Talk with other youth who have been in foster care.
- Get others to rally around regional events and advocacy opportunities in your area.
- Be trained on how to advocate for yourself and others.
Youth panels are an opportunity to voice your opinion and educate others about your experiences in foster care. You will talk to different types of people from the heads of departments of social services to community groups. Three to four times a year the state asks for youth to take part in the youth Panels.
You will be trained to participate in discussions and answer questions about your needs and experiences in foster care. You will:
- Speak before audiences that include youth and adults. The audiences may be large or small.
- Know the questions before the formal meeting and be prepared with answers so you feel confident to speak.
- Work with a facilitator who will guide the flow of the event.
To ask to be part of the panels you can contact Sophia Booker, the Youth Network Coordinator: firstname.lastname@example.org, 804.343.4461 ext. 1504.
As part of a work group, you will give input, develop leadership skills, and work with adults on a variety of issues affecting youth in foster care. Here’s an example:
Foster Care to 21 Work group
In July 2014, the Virginia Department of Social Services, local directors, and private providers met to share information about the “Extending Foster Care to 21” bill. Their goal was to make sure that folks had the information they needed to implement the bill if it passed and information about what other states have done to address the 18- to 21-year-old population. The state asked youth to be a part of the discussion to share their viewpoint on the bill and how it would affect them. Sub-committees were created on five topics, and youth were given the opportunity to serve on those committees.
Youth Network Chat Sessions
Chat Sessions are your opportunity to talk about what you need in a more relaxed and informal atmosphere. You will be able to connect with other youth on social media (Facebook, Google Hangout as well as conference calls) to help each other deal with school, permanency,normalcy and other issues that you are dealing with.
A week before a chat session, you’ll see details about the chat posted on social media, so you can set the time aside and join in. Each chat starts with a discussion question and your comments are more than welcome.
Youth Network Trainings
There are two ways to be trained for the Youth Network: The Speakers Bureau and The Youth Leadership Institute.
The Speaker’s Bureau trains you to advocate for yourself and to be comfortable speaking in public. As part of the Bureau, you will educate people about what youth in foster care think about the system, inform them about your needs and advocate for change in the foster care community.
The Youth Leadership Institute is a curriculum taught as part of the Youth Network regional and state events. The Youth Leadership Institute gives you the opportunity to enhance your leadership and social skills in key areas: organization, self-awareness and advocacy.
Your voice is very important. It can make a difference and be a great source of strength for you and others. As a member of the Youth Network, you will learn new skills and help improve the lives of youth in foster care. You’ll also get some important benefits:
- Being around youth in foster care who share similar experiences can be uplifting and give you a sense of belonging.
- You will learn about rights and resources in the foster care community.
- You will gain leaderships skills.