Providence, RI — At age 22, after her recent emancipation from foster care, Sylvia is determined and finally feels equipped to pursue a future based on her strengths. She credits her godmother, Mary Harrison, whose love is unconditional, and staff at Rhode Island Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), Inc., a nonprofit that empowered her with tools to navigate complex childhood challenges.
Sylvia was a co-presenter with New England Youth Coalition (NEYC) at the April 2022 Child Welfare League of America national conference in Washington, DC.
She has her own place, is enrolled in a 12-month college medical field certificate program, and recently started a new job at JBS International as a National Youth in Transition Database (NYTD) reviewer.
“NYTD was the biggest job opportunity I received last year and I’m excited to see where it goes,” she said.
Sylvia was 5 when she went into foster care and was back home living with her biological mother at age 7. When she was 10, she went to live with her biological father for six years until an altercation led her to her sister’s place, where things didn’t go well. By age 17, she was back in foster care, this time in a group home, where she became connected with YAP.
“Before YAP, I was so angry, and even during YAP, angry – fighting and getting in trouble,” she said. “When you’re in group homes, you have restrictions. I went AWOL a lot.”
Sylvia recalled that one night, she packed her bags and was determined to run away until her godmother talked her out of it. “YAP was an escape from all of that,” she added.
A national nonprofit in 32 states and the District of Columbia, YAP partners with youth justice, child welfare, behavioral health, and other systems to provide community-based services as an alternative to youth incarceration, congregate child welfare, behavioral health and other placements, and neighborhood violence. With child welfare system-involved youth, YAP’s goal is family reunification and, in the meantime, or until emancipation, the nonprofit helps program participants see their strengths and connects them with individualized emotional, educational and/or economic tools to pursue positive goals.
When Rhode Island YAP Director Dave Pacheco saw that Sylvia and her first Advocate were not the best match, he and his team paired her with Megan Costa. By then, Sylvia was in her second group home.
“Megan was carefree. She didn’t press me about sharing things and she just felt like a friend,” Sylvia said.
Sylvia said Megan helped her see her independent nature as a strength and encouraged her to apply for a job as a host at a local Ruby Tuesday. The restaurant closed in 2019 just before the pandemic, but Sylvia was there long enough to start seeing herself and the world around her differently.
“I learned that I’m hardworking and that job also woke me up and taught me a lot about other people,” she said. “A co-worker was a young mother; she didn’t talk about it, but I saw where her passion came from and why she worked so hard. I had a lot of respect for that. It brought me so much joy to see other moms work so hard for their kids.”
Sylvia said as she continued to mature, there were ups and downs, and that YAP was there for all of it.
“I had many altercations in group homes and Megan came through for me during those times and was unbiased and corrected me when I was wrong,” Sylvia said.
Sylvia continued to receive services from YAP throughout her time in foster care and said another YAP Advocate connected her to tools she needed to achieve personal, educational, and professional goals.
“She helped me get my high school diploma by bringing me to the YAP office and actually helped me with the work,” Sylvia said. “She taught me how to make a positive out of a negative, taught me about looking and acting professional, and when I got sent to my third group home, she made the transition so smooth.”
Sylvia added that when she started a new job far from the group home, her Advocate went above and beyond. “She would pick me up, cook me meals, take me to work and pick me up. She did this for a month, it was a chaotic time, but I was so at peace.”
With her emancipation from foster care, Sylvia no longer receives YAP services but said she wouldn’t be where she is now without them.
“YAP is a big part of my foster care journey and I’ll always be grateful to them,” she said. “Going back into care at age 17 saved my life.”
Today, Sylvia spends her free time with her god family, “my real family and a blessing from God,” she added.
As a member of the Communities for People SPEAK Youth Advisory Board, Sylvia recently had an opportunity to speak to a group of social workers.
“My advice: you need to have some passion or you’re going to burn out very quickly. There’s nothing worse than having a burnt-out social worker.”
Her YAP Advocates’ passion was a driving force for Sylvia and key to helping her see that her own passion is not a weakness, but a strength.