Sharing Your Experience for Change

Written by: Michelle Vance

Several years ago, I sat down for lunch with two young adults and our Department of Human Services’ Executive Director. The young adults were at the office to shadow the Director for a day so that she could hear their stories and they could learn how she spent her time.

The young adults took the time that day to describe their experiences in the Foster Care system and how it impacted their mental health and transition to adulthood. They explained to us how the transition from one home to another was often very demeaning and defeating. One of the youth explained in detail how it felt to watch all of his belongings gathered into black trash bags and moved somewhere new or somewhere that didn’t feel entirely safe. All four of us experienced a moment of connection and vulnerability. The young adult told us it was hard not to see their life as trash when literally everything they owned was shoved into several trash bags.

The next month there was a purchase order and a budget for suitcases and duffle bags for all youth in our foster care system, so this would not continue to happen.

As I write, I can still remember the Executive Director proudly announcing the change to the partners in the room at the next System of Care Governance meeting. Many high-level systems professionals were there, all of them beaming with the knowledge that our hard work and passion in our System of Care was not useless. It was a time for reflection on how listening directly to young adults with no agenda, or even allowing those with lived experience to write their own agenda, can create space for change.

I wanted to share this meaningful experience along with a resource that has helped me for years as an advocate in hopes that you will make space in your life, personally or professionally, to share your story to affect change. A Change Makers Eight Step Guide to Storytelling was published by Ashoka ChangeMakers and can be found online. I especially enjoy how this document allows for this work to be done by one person or as a group of people working together.

You can view the resource here: A Change Makers Eight Step Guide to Storytelling

Change in policy and the inclusion of youth voice do not usually happen as quickly as I describe in this story. This type of advocacy is an ongoing, often seemingly endless venture. The good news is, there are many ways to make change. There are many forms of sharing your story, and by using this guide, you can develop parts of your story for different audiences and make change wherever your passion lies.

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