Like the legendary Phoenix who rises from the ashes to soar to even greater heights, former foster youth Yolanda Washburn refused to accept defeat when her own life spiraled downward when she was a teenager.
Rhode Island native Yolanda was raised in a single-parent household, and her mother struggled to provide for her daughter despite the parent’s own life challenges. “My mom wasn’t in a great place in her life,” Yolanda remembers, “and she bounced around from one family member’s household to another for a long time.” Yolanda’s unstable home environment began to reflect negatively on her grades, and her school took notice. Ultimately, she found herself placed in the foster care system at age 14.
“As unstable as my home life had been before foster care,” Yolanda adds, “it was nothing compared to my life in a foster home.” Feeling neglected and hopeless, without proper parental guidance, Yolanda began making poor choices. Yolanda eventually became a teen mom. Being pregnant in high school added another layer of difficulty to her life. There weren’t many pregnant students in her high school, and she fell behind her peers.
But Yolanda is a fighter. She was determined to finish high school and make a better life for herself and her infant son. As she faced aging out of the foster care system, she was at a crossroads in her life and wondered how do she would support her son, finish high school and have enough money for basic necessities like housing, food, and clothing. Young, inexperienced, and fraught with fear, Yolanda faced daunting odds that most foster youths are forced to confront and questioned how she would survive on her own at age 18.
Ultimately, Yolanda realized it didn’t really matter to whom she should cast blame; it was up to her to set her goals and move forward to achieve them. She landed an internship at one of her former foster group homes, where she helped provide young mothers, like herself, with education in care with resources from employment to education. She finally graduated from high school and, with her baby in hand, she was offered a full-time job at the group home where she once lived. It was at this job that she realized the need for former foster youth to get involved with the system and to help others achieve better outcomes than the ones she had.
The odds were against Yolanda. Aging out of the foster care system brought a new level of instability to her life. When she gave birth to her second son, Yolanda had an epiphany: she would begin to advocate on behalf of foster youths, like herself, who found themselves struggling in a world that seemed devoid of love, predictability, and stability.
Advocating on behalf of foster youth seemed only natural to Yolanda. Before long, she was sought out due to the example she set for others with her determination to overcome her past and focus on the future. Yolanda knew education was extremely important, and the years of hard work paid off in May 2018, when she earned her associate degree from the Community College of Rhode Island. The day after her graduation, Yolanda traveled to Washington, DC, to attend NFYI’s annual Shadow Day, where she would spend the day following her Member of the House of Representatives, Congressman Jim Langevin of Rhode Island’s second district.
Currently, Yolanda is enrolled at Rhode Island College to earn her bachelor degree in Psychology. She plans on giving back to children in the foster care system who may feel as hopeless and neglected as she once did. She wants to show them that anything is possible to those who believe.