Oregon Foster Youth Connection (OFYC) empowers current and former foster youth to share their voice and to be heard in key decisions affecting children and youth in foster care. With peer support, leadership skills, and civic engagement, these inspiring youth take the lead in improving their own lives and the lives of thousands of kids in Oregon’s foster care system.
Foster youth grow as leaders by developing solutions for Oregon’s foster care system. From their unique perspective as youth who have experienced foster care, OFYC members participate in key child welfare advisory meetings, provide education on foster care issues, and advocate for policy change in the Oregon Legislature. They learn to communicate effectively, problem-solve, and work on a team to achieve their goals.
Through peer support and adult mentorship, members have the opportunity to build community with foster youth from all walks of life. Participating youth gain confidence from their experiences in foster care while building a foundation of support for a productive and successful adulthood.
OFYC youth establish long-term change within the foster care system by developing and advocating for policies in the Oregon Legislature. Wins secured by youth include the Foster Children’s Sibling Bill of Rights, a tuition waiver at state universities and community colleges for youth who spent time in Oregon’s foster care system, and the ability for foster children to open savings accounts in their own name. Alumni of OFYC have moved on to higher education, leadership roles in government, and career paths that build on the skills gained in OFYC.
OFYC was founded in 2008 by a staff member of Children First for Oregon who experienced foster care as a youth. The very first OFYC meeting included four youth and two adults. Today, OFYC has members from all over the state, and we have been successful in passing every piece of legislation that our members have developed and advocated for in the Oregon State Legislature. Click here for a list of our legislative accomplishments.
Sibling Bill of Rights | 2017
Ensures that youth in care are supported in preserving and strengthening relationships with their siblings.
“When you are in the foster care system, siblings are all the connection that you have. They know what you are going through; they know everything. They want to help you. They want to stick by you.” — Raven, OFYC member
Extracurricular Activities | 2015
Gives youth in care the opportunity to participate in activities with their peers, develop their talents, and build lifelong relationships by ensuring that Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS) and foster parents work together to support youth in joining at least one ongoing extracurricular activity.
“I knew that I needed something to help me get through my challenges or I’d shut down. I put all I had into extracurricular activities and found that it helped immensely. I came to realize I love helping others, being a leader, and standing up for what I believe in. Because of my activities, I have a plan of what I intend to do after I graduate.” — Alexis, OFYC member
Savings Account | 2015
Ensures that foster youth 12 years old or older receive direct assistance from DHS in establishing their own savings accounts.
Bill of Rights | 2013
Establishes clear requirements for informing foster youth about their legal rights and establishes a hotline answered by the Foster Care Ombudsman, which is an independent resource to investigate complaints, concerns, or violation of rights for children in the custody of Oregon DHS Foster Care.
“As a foster child, all you want to know is that someone has your back. By educating foster children about their rights, and setting up a grievance procedure if their rights are violated, we make one solid push to give foster kids safety and protection. That’s the very minimum any parent wants for their kid.” — Patrick, OFYC member
Tuition Waiver | 2011
Waives tuition and fees at state universities and community colleges for youth who spent time in Oregon’s foster care system.
“I want the chance to succeed. I have the grades, now I know I’ll have the resources.” — Nicole, OFYC member
Medical Assistance | 2010
Grants eligibility for Oregon Health Plan Plus healthcare coverage for all youth in Oregon’s foster care system when they turn 18.
Driving Privileges | 2009
Requires DHS to provide assistance to foster youth in obtaining a driver’s license.
“What I love about OFYC is that the cause is good and genuine. We believe that Oregon foster youth – and, truly, all foster youth around the world- deserve to be happy and treated with care.”
Trey, who has been a member of OFYC since 2017, learned about the organization through his peers in the Independent Living Program. “Once I was educated on what OFYC is and what they do, I didn’t hesitate to contact someone to see about joining,” he recalls.
He went on to say that, “OFYC has given me many opportunities. I’ve been able to share my opinions and ideas with masses of people. Because of OFYC, I’ve gotten to do things I only hoped of doing when I was younger, like having a direct impact on the system in Oregon. Because of them, I’ve been able to meet with state representatives and, not to mention, the governor!
In the time that Trey has been a part of OFYC, he has been able to participate in a number of Action Opportunities within the program. He has attended the bi-annual Policy Conference in 2018, participated in the Advocacy Convening Conference and the Advocacy Day at the Capitol 2019, and has had the opportunity to meet with state representatives. Additionally, he got the chance to travel to California in November of 2018 where he attended the Leaders for Change (L4C) Conference, and got to meet and work with foster youth from all over the country, as well as some from Canada.
When asked about his feelings toward OFYC, Trey responded that, “What I love about OFYC is that the cause is good and genuine. We believe that not just Oregon foster youth, but all foster youth around the world deserve to be happy and treated with care. I’ve also learned a lot about myself as a person and as a leader. I used to think that I didn’t have it in me to speak in front of a lot of people, but I’ve had many opportunities to do so, so I ended up proving myself wrong.
Outside of OFYC, Trey does photography and graphic design when he’s not working at his job at Starbucks. Some other hobbies of his include writing poetry and song lyrics. Trey is also currently a student at Portland Community College, where he’d like to work toward a degree in either Photography or Graphic Design.
“With whatever I do end up achieving,” he says, “I just want to make a positive impact. Helping others is what I live for.”
You can also check out Trey’s photography on Instagram, @ripcityphotos
“ OFYC taught me that, even though I am a single person, one voice is strong, but multiple voices are powerful. I’ve learned that, even though I’m a shy person, I have a strong drive to help others who don’t know how to say they need help.”
Caytlyn, who has been an active member of OFYC for a little over a year now, first heard about the program from her caseworker. Although she was a little unsure about joining at first, she attended her first event, the DREAM conference in 2017, and has been in love with the organization ever since.
“I honestly love the people and what they have to offer,” Caytlyn says about OFYC. “I also love how, even if we all had different experiences, we are still close and have fun.”
Since becoming a member, Caytlyn has had the opportunity to work on trying to get the age range extended for the Independent Living Program (ILP), as well as helping to obtain funding for the ILP. She’s also helped with interviewing a candidate for the Child Welfare Director position, and was part of a group called Foster Homes of Healing, which worked to help make legislators more aware of how culturally diverse foster homes should be.
OFYC has had a big impact on Caytlyn’s life as well. “OFYC has helped me come out of my shell and made me who I am today,” she reflects. “It has opened so many doors for me, and I love talking about OFYC to people who are not aware of what’s going on, or to those who are just curious.”
Caytlyn also stated that OFYC has taught her a lot about standing up and speaking out. “I’ve learned that, even though I am a single person, one voice is strong, but multiple voices are powerful. I’ve learned that, even though I’m a shy person, I have a strong drive to help others who don’t know how to say they need help.”
Outside of OFYC, Caytlyn goes to school and works part-time. She also helps with the Foster Parent Training down in Lincoln County, attends ILP conferences, and spends time with her family. Her plan is to continue to be a part of OFYC until she is 25, after which she still hopes to be involved in any way she can.
“OFYC set me up to be confident and relate to people really well in a professional setting, and the connections I’ve made with other OFYC members are very special. It’s a very supportive and caring community, and they made me feel better as a person and what I’ve experienced, and gave me a lot of coping mechanisms as well.”
Viktoria first heard about OFYC when she was still part of the Independent Living Program back in 2015. She decided to join because of OFYC’s mission, as well as the values the program holds. She believes that OFYC is a really good avenue for creating changes in the foster care system.
Since joining OFYC, Viktoria has taken part in quite a few Action Opportunities. She’s gotten to help set up the bi-annual Policy Conference, which was also the first function she attended as a member. She has participated in numerous speaking events with colleges and universities, was part of the Systems of Care Advisory Committee, served as a co-chair and a member for the Oregon Trauma Advocacy Coalition, and was part of the leadership team for Trauma Informed Oregon.
When asked what she loves most about OFYC, Viktoria replied that, “they actually make changes,” referring to OFYC’s part in the Foster Bill of Rights, as well as the Sibling Bill of Rights. She goes on to say that, “I like that they connect youth with people who are going to help them later on in life. They also help youth build confidence to share their story, and set youth up to be successful.”
Viktoria also feels that OFYC has had a large impact on her life, saying, “they set me up to be confident and relate to people really well in a professional setting, and the connections I’ve made with other OFYC members are very special. It’s a very supportive and caring community, and they made me feel better as a person and what I’ve experienced, and gave me a lot of coping mechanisms as well.”
“I’ve learned that I’m a stronger person than I thought I was,” she continues. “I’ve learned that it’s okay to enjoy life, to reach out to people, and that anyone can be a leader. It doesn’t take a special person, just a person with drive. OFYC taught me how to focus and do things that are about more than just myself.”
Outside of OFYC, some of Viktoria’s hobbies include biking, running, hiking, cooking, baking, and volunteering on farms. She also works full-time in a doctor’s office, where she runs the medical-legal department. She is hoping to go back to school in the Fall of 2019 and study law.
“I love the community OFYC has given me. They’ve empowered me beyond words and given me a new sense of what it means to be a former foster youth.”
Maddy joined OFYC in 2018 after learning about the program through the Portland State Advisory Board she was working with at the time. Originally, she was only going to attend the bi-annual Policy Conference happening that Summer, but, after learning more about OFYC, she decided she wanted to become a member instead.
Since joining OFYC, Maddy has been able to help plan the bi-annual Policy Conference, attend the January Convening Conference, as well as travel to Washington D.C., joining the American Institute of Research as a researcher on how youth make decisions, and has conducted caseworker trainings.
“I love the community and opportunities OFYC has given me,” Maddy says. “It has empowered me beyond words and given me a new sense of what it means to be a former foster youth. If it wasn’t for OFYC, being a former foster youth would be something I was still embarrassed about, which I know now I have nothing to be embarrassed about.”
Maddy goes on to say that, “OFYC has really helped me grow as a leader. I never would have thought I’d have the courage or ability to speak in front of legislators or senators. OFYC gave me the tools I needed to become a better leader and speaker, and be able to talk to anyone.”
In the fall of 2019, Maddy will be attending school at Georgetown University as a freshman, where she wants to major in government, and minor in social justice and peace studies. She hopes to eventually write policies, and continue her passion for improving the lives of foster youth.
“Being an OFYC member has also helped me build a bigger support network, along with building new friendships that I hope will last a very long time.”
I decided to join OFYC to become an advocate for foster youth, and to hopefully help current and future foster youth while they’re in care. My neighbor started telling me about OFYC and what the organization does, and I immediately knew I wanted to be a part of this.
My first experience as a member of OFYC was attending the 2019 Advocacy Convening Conference back in January. I was also voted into the Legislative Action team, which gave me and 4 other members of OFYC the amazing opportunity to write multiple testimonies, and testify at the capitol. The five of us got the chance to be lobbyists for the 2019 Legislative Session, and were given the chance to speak to multiple legislators and representatives discussing our Independent Living Program bill, and support other bills.
What I love about being an OFYC member is being able to use my voice to help current and future foster youth while they go through their trials and tribulations in the system. Also, to help the system itself change for the better. That way, current foster youth can have a smooth exit out, and aren’t being thrown around from placement to placement, like I was.
OFYC has impacted my life by helping me discover new passions, as well as using my voice to be able to write testimonies and testify in front of multiple people. Being an OFYC member has also helped me build a bigger support network, along with building new friendships that I hope will last a very long time. Since joining OFYC, I have learned more about speaking up for myself and others around me, and I am not ashamed of being a foster youth anymore. I am confident in talking about my experiences and how I ended up in care.
Outside of OFYC I love playing sports, and I am also a photographer, and always taking opportunities to get that perfect shot. Currently, I am working on going back to college at PCC to get my Associate’s Degree in sign language, as well as finishing my general studies. Then, I’d like to transfer to WOU to get my double Bachelor’s in teaching and in sign language. I have always loved working with kids and young adults, and hope to take my own experiences and help future generations master this thing we call life.
“I love being able to be a part of a group that values my voice and the voice of others.”
I heard about OFYC from my Independent Living Program caseworker, and I joined this group because I was interested in leadership work and making a difference in foster care.
As a member of OFYC, I have attended various types of meetings and last year, I joined the Foster Homes of Healing coalition. I’ve met with legislators regarding the SB 745, and have worked with Foster Homes of Healing to provide better training for foster parents in Oregon, so that foster parents can provide more trauma informed care to foster youth.
I love being a member of OFYC because I get to stay up to date with current foster care happenings, and I get to be involved in committees and focus groups that focus on foster care improvement. Since I joined OFYC a little over two years ago, I have gotten so many opportunities to engage in foster care improvement. I have learned that it is important for foster youth to be able to use their voice and speak out about what is working and what is not working in foster care. I love being able to be a part of a group that values my voice and the voice of others.
While I am not spending my time with OFYC, I am a senior studying Biology at Oregon State University, where I am soon to graduate. In my spare time, I enjoy hiking, playing volleyball, running, and tutoring. I plan to continue my education in grad school next year to obtain my Master’s of Education so that I can become a high school / college-level Biology teacher.
“I love having an environment that people who have been through hardships can come together, feel safe and heard, and share in confidence their stories as they grow together and make change.”
Since then, Elsana has participated in number of OFYC events and projects, including being a member of our Advisory Committee. Elsana also helped to pass the Sibling Bill of Rights, is involved with regular meetings with Child Welfare director Marilyn Jones, has educated future caseworkers about how to make youth feel heard and meet their mental health needs, helped to plan the 2018 Policy Conference, and much more. Elsana says that OFYC has helped them discover a passion for speaking and taught them how to give others the strength to share their stories.
Outside of OFYC, Elsana enjoys biking, writing poetry, and working with houseless folks of all ages. Elsana hopes to start college soon and is deciding between pursuing a career as a judge or a senator.
“OFYC has made me feel like I can be assertive and stand up for myself. It has made me more outgoing and self-positive.“
Macy first decided to join OFYC when she was recruited by another current member who was in her English class at the time. “He recruited me due to all of my essays being about bettering foster care and foster youth, and explaining the problems that foster youth face.”
Since joining OFYC, Macy has had the opportunity to attend OFYC’s three day Advocacy Convening to work on their legislative concept to expand ILP services, and has also attended Governor Brown’s Child Welfare Oversight Board meetings, Oregon’s Foster Care Ombudsman meetings, which is a department within Child Welfare that operates the Youth Empowerment and Safety (Y.E.S.) phone line to help foster youth, foster parents, caseworkers, etc, advocate for any issues the foster youth may be having.
“I love speaking up for all of these youth and trying to make a change,” Macy says. “I love being a part of trying to create a better future!”
When describing the impact that OFYC has had on her life, Macy added that, “OFYC has made me feel like I can be assertive and stand up for myself. It has made me more outgoing and self-positive.”
Macy also shared that, “I learned that being a leader has made me even more motivated to stand up for youth, if that’s possible, and make a difference for the future.”
Apart from OFYC, Macy enjoys art and hiking. She is currently enrolled in Chemeketa Community College, where she is on the swim team. She hopes to one day work for social services.
“I have learned that my voice matters. I can make a change in a lot of things just by speaking up.”
“My favorite things about the Policy Conference is the different dynamic of people that show up each year and the amount of change that we’re able to make from our different ideas,” says Glayz. “One real thing I learned at the Conference was that you don’t have to pretend to be someone else to fit in. Just be yourself and people will flock to you.”
Glayz is currently going to school to become a peer support therapist and is looking for housing in order to live on her own.
“OFYC is like my family — we can all relate in some way. Speaking up for myself and others has made me a stronger person, knowing I am not alone.”
“What I love about OFYC is we all feel like a family,” says Raven. “No one in OFYC has to feel alone because we all understand. We work together to make a change within the child welfare system, speaking up for those who have no voice or are afraid to speak out. Because of OFYC, I’m no longer afraid to speak up for myself about what I think is right for me.”
Outside of OFYC, Raven works for an after school program with kids from kindergarten to fifth grade. She wants to become a teacher one day so she can make sure children are loved and cherished. In her free time, Raven loves to paint, listen to music, and spend time with friends.
More coming soon!
Are you an OFYC member who would like to have your story on this page?
Reach out to Kate so we can add you!
MEET OUR STAFF
Lisa is OFYC’s Program Director. During her time at OFYC, she has been able to assist youth in making substantial changes to Oregon’s foster care system; a system they themselves have experienced. The youth Lisa works with have done this by using their knowledge of the system to bring forth legislation, inform rules and policy, and educate those who work directly with youth in care.
From the beginning of Lisa’s career as a high school Special Education teacher, to studying self-determination for nearly a decade while at Portland State University’s Regional Research Institute on Human Services, it has been clear that Lisa is passionate about and dedicated to empowering young people. Lisa loves helping youth find their “spark,” while providing them the support necessary to succeed in their goals.
When Lisa, a Michigan native, is not focused on improving the lives of youth in care, she likes to spend time with friends and family. Lisa also loves to travel, take hikes, listen to live music, and eat at the many amazing restaurants in Portland.
Kate Rosenstein Houston
In her free time, Kate enjoys hiking, road trips to the beach, baking goodies with her family, and exploring Portland’s foodie scene.
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Oregon Foster Youth Connection is a program of Children First for Oregon.
Learn more at www.cffo.org
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