Angel lived with more than 50 different families during her childhood. Each time there was an argument with a foster sibling or a problem at school, she moved on. When she turned 18 and aged out of the child welfare system, Angel felt stable and focused for the first time in her life. She knew, however, that she was not ready for life on her own – so she came to Casa Valentina.
Angel immediately took advantage of our services. She worked hard with a tutor, and graduated from high school with a standard diploma despite having a documented disability. She learned important life skills, and gained confidence in herself. But she struggled in some areas. For example, she had trouble living with a roommate – understandable, given her history. Eventually, she made the difficult decision to leave Casa Valentina. She left on good terms, and stayed in touch with our staff.
Then, Angel experienced the hardest year of her life. Unable to find a stable place to live, she bounced from friends’ sofas to cousins’ floors. Unable to focus on school, she almost lost her Road to Independence (RTI) scholarship, a stipend from the State of Florida for former foster youth enrolled in school full-time.
Seeking a lifeline, Angel asked to return to Casa Valentina. She completed the intake process, and was re-admitted last fall. Since her return, Angel has been a model resident. She has her RTI, and is doing well in school. She is a role model for our younger residents, and is always ready to share her experiences and advice.
Angel is inspiring people throughout Florida as President of the Miami Chapter of Florida Youth SHINE (Striving High for Independence aNd Empowerment). Youth SHINE is a youth-run, peer-driven organization that empowers current and former foster youth to become leaders and advocates within their communities.
Earlier this year, Angel travelled to Jacksonville for the statewide Youth SHINE conference; attendees shared information on their chapters’ activities and engaged in legislative advocacy training. Last month, she participated in Youth SHINE’s advocacy trip to Tallahassee, where youth met with lawmakers to support legislation that facilitates contact among siblings after one has been adopted and the other remains in foster care. Their efforts paid off – the measure passed both chambers of the legislature and has been signed into law by the governor.
Angel has been on the speaking circuit in Miami as well. She recently addressed law students at the University of Miami, sharing her story and talking about how lawyers can best support youth in care and those who have aged out. She gave a similar speech to case managers at the Family Resource Center, addressing their role in the lives of foster youth.
She is leading Miami Youth SHINE’s efforts to assemble focus groups of youth living in foster homes, group homes, and shelters in Miami. They will use the results to help foster parents better meet the needs of youth in their care.
In addition to her leadership of Youth SHINE, Angel is enrolled full-time in the Criminal Justice program at Miami Dade College and working part-time at Children’s Legal Services.
We are so proud of our SHINING star!