The importance of connection

Column by Philip Day

Chauncey Strong will tell you that he is fortunate, extremely fortunate, to be where he is today.

In his position as the director of community services for the Phillips Programs, a nonprofit, private organization (www.phillipsprograms.org) that serves individuals with emotional and behavioral problems located in Annandale, Chauncey is in contact with people who need encouragement through the toughest of times.

So his career gives him the opportunity to help disadvantaged people every day but even that wasn’t enough. But, as you will see, his childhood gives him reason to go far beyond the workplace.

“I began in foster care around 2 years old with my two brothers – we were triplets,” Chauncey explains. “I was placed in the home that eventually adopted me. All of us were adopted at age 6. My adoptive mom and dad had four other kids in foster care. They adopted all of us so that we could stay together. My father was a pastor, and mother was a homemaker. They separated and mother kept all three of us.”

Chauncey was given responsibility over his brothers since he was the most mature. He gives much credit to his adoptive parents (who divorced a few years later) for providing a loving and caring home. He and his brothers attended and graduated from a private high school.

“I was appreciative that at a very young age we were together unlike so many foster-care children who are split up and go to different families, “Chauncey continued. “Often many foster children, when they turn 18, want to return to their birth families. I learned the importance of connection and friendships as most foster-care children couldn’t tell you their friends since they move from home to home.”

Following graduation, Chauncey and his brothers left for college. He went to Elizabeth City State University in North Carolina. One brother went to University of Maine, and the other brother went to the University of Idaho. The fact that Chauncey and his brother went to college is another reason he feels “blessed”. Many foster-care youth do not even make it to college.

Upon graduation from graduate school, Chauncey already had it figured out: he had to help people. So he went into social work. “I became an advocate. It’s my way of giving back. I’ve worked in foster care for 13 years and have seen too many foster-care children moving from home to home, leaving ill-prepared to care for themselves, ending up homeless, unemployed and involved in the criminal justice system. I heard about the Foster Care Alumni of America and got involved.”

He has four goals in his work with the FCAA, Virginia Chapter: Connect people from foster care to build a permanent, extended-family community; transform and advocate for changes in the foster-care system and foster-care policies; to improve the outcome of foster-care alumni; establish a partnership with MentorMatch so that foster-care adults can be mentors to foster-care youth and, finally, connect with people and organizations providing services to foster-care youth aging out of the system so that they have the life skills they need to succeed.

“I want foster-care alumni to connect with each other former foster-care youth and with our ‘brothers and sisters’ still in the system. I would like them to know the importance of having an association where their voice can truly be heard. Often, foster-care alumni have felt isolated. FCAA is a place where they can belong forever.”

Chauncey knows the importance of connection. As a foster child, he was connected to parents who loved him, adopted him and helped him stay connected to his brothers and sisters. He was later reconnected with his birth family. Then, he was connected to the FCAA. Now, he’s connecting foster-care alumni with each other and with foster-care youth to provide encouragement and support.

His plea to the reader? “The FCAA is a place where you can have a voice. Help us spread the word to connect today, transform tomorrow and affect change in Virginia.”

 

Philip Day is the mentoring coordinator for MentorMatch Harrisonburg which serves the Shenandoah Valley area. MentorMatch is an official partner of the Foster Care Alumni of America (www.fostercarealumni.org). If you are interested in being a positive influence as a mentor for a foster care or juvenile justice youth, call MentorMatch Harrisonburg at 540.450.2782 or e-mail jlsmith@lfsva.org. The website address is www.mentormatch.info.


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