“I can change the world of one person.”

I saw her sitting lakeside – the camper I struggled the most to connect with all summer. She avoided eye contact, stood sullen, and closed herself off from others. This is the moment, I thought. I walked across the grass and sat right beside her. I don’t remember what I said or even if I was the first one to speak. She talked about her favorite book. And then her mom came up. “My mom is in prison,” she started, “I haven’t seen her in months. So now I’ve been living in this group home. I’ve moved homes so many times.” I stayed silent. She continued, “I don’t get to see my brother really at all. I don’t really have anyone.”

I had no words. It was clear she had faced so much in her short 12 years of life. “I’m so sorry. I’m sure that is so hard.” I leaned over and hugged her around the shoulder. Having the right words didn’t matter in that moment. I was there. I was present. I sat with her in the hurt and the loss. I couldn’t fix anything, but I could be there.

The next day at camp, she was an entirely different camper. She greeted me with a smile and poked fun at my tacky tie-dye t-shirt. Her face seemed brighter, open, filled with hope. I took note of how she smiled and how she began to make friends. I decided in that moment to find more ways to walk alongside foster youth. I thought to myself, if one conversation can change the trajectory of her summer, how can I be a part of changing the trajectory of someone’s life?

My long journey ahead led me to CASA (Court-Appointed-Special-Advocates for Children). All throughout college I sought to learn more about foster care, foster youth, and foster families. I wrote research papers, created workshops, and gave speeches. As I learned more, I wanted to share more. I realized how little the average person knows about foster care. Friends would ask questions like, “Foster Care? Don’t we have orphanages in American?” Or make say things like, “I don’t understand why a parent would want to give up their child like that.” These comments sent me on a journey to answer these questions and teach others that foster care is orphan care in America. You don’t have to travel to a foreign country to serve vulnerable children and families in your community. It’s right outside your back door – families that are struggling with job loss, substance abuse, mental health, and domestic violence. Complicated and heavy circumstances that impact children. And ultimately what I found out is – there’s something we can all do to help. Not everyone is called to foster or adopt, but everyone can do something. 

Yes, you can foster a child. Yes you can support foster families. But I’m young! I wanted to do something now. That “something” was CASA. So, I applied, interviewed, and went through the 40 hours of required training to become an advocate for a child in the foster care system. I was told I would meet weekly with a child or sibling group in foster care for the purpose of advocacy and support. I was told “be present, be consistent, and advocate in court on their behalf.” This is just what I was looking for.

The first day I met the children that I was assigned, I was so nervous. I was jittery, shaking. What if they think I’m weird or awkward? (Spoiler: they did but loved me anyway). What if they want nothing to do with me? What if I can’t help?

The day we met in summer 2019 was the beginning of a lifelong friendship. We went and got icees, they made fun of my use of the word, “cool,” which apparently isn’t cool anymore. And we ultimately laid the groundwork for trust. Throughout the year I advocated for permanency, therapy, and healthy visits with biological parents. I was there when they moved schools, moved homes, and went weeks without seeing their younger sibling. There were tears, there was loss, but there was hope.

A year later they told me, “you’ve been here this whole time.” One day, she paused her favorite Taylor Swift song and asked me, “Will we still get to see you when this is all over? You’re my break in the week. You’re the one place I can be myself and really share what’s on my mind.”

And that’s exactly why I’m here. Consistency matters. Showing up matters. I’m honored to empower other caring adults to do the same. As the Training and Retention Coordinator for CASA of Jefferson & Gilpin counties in Colorado, I get to recruit, train, and support others to step up for abused and neglected children in our community. Just a small part of my greater dream to educate others in the field of child welfare to step outside their comfort zone and make a difference. “As one person, I can’t change the whole world, but I can change the world of one person,” (Paul Shane Spear)

As I look back, I think about how they changed me more than I changed them. I saw their inner-strength, their ability to overcome. And it made me stronger. I saw their love for their parents, their forgiveness and ability to look beyond what has been. And I was changed. Now, he goes to high school soon and she goes off to college. And I’m so honored to watch them grow, watch them thrive, and watch them change the world.

Now that they’ve changed me, made me stronger, I’m stepping up to be a foster parent myself. It’s going to be challenging in a lot of ways to become a parent for the first time and have a child in our home. But if consistency and being present for 2-3 hours a week can change a child’s story, I know that a stable home can make all the difference as well. There are a lot of unknowns ahead, but my husband and I are excited and eager to partner with families in this way. A lot of families look to foster care for the purpose of growing their family through adoption, but we are hoping to be an “in-between” family until children can go back home with their first family. Parents and children need support, they need someone to step up for them. They need someone to be present without judgement, and without their own agenda. That’s what the Lord has done for me.

It’s messy, yes. It’s scary and uncertain. We will make mistakes. We will get too attached. It may not always be comfortable or conventional, but if I’ve learned anything: being uncomfortable for a season is worth it to change the story for a child or family.

Published by mkwellum

Maddy and her husband, Justin, live in Littleton, CO with their two rescue pups. They began the process to become foster parents in 2020 with the hopes to welcome a child into their home in Spring 2021. Their plan is to be a temporary home for children while their families get on their feet. Maddy enjoys an active and minimalist lifestyle filled with hiking, crafting, caring for plants, and eating good food with good friends.

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