TACFS is recognizing May as National Foster Care Month. As an ongoing series we are highlighting conversations in Foster Care. We hope you will follow along!
Katie Olse, Executive Director, TACFS: Elyas, thanks so much for talking with me today. As you know, May is Foster Care Month, and we’re talking with folks that work in and around the foster care system in Texas, and you are are former foster youth who now works in the foster care world, right?
Ilyas, LifeWorks Austin: Yes I am.
How do you talk about your story from when you were in foster care?
I pretty much wear my story on my sleeve. When I was younger, it was harder to be vulnerable, but as I got older, I knew that telling my story could actually empower others to get involved. The first time I told my story I could tell it moved people. I think in this foster care world, the issues are so big, and there is a lot of light on it, but it doesn’t reach everyone. The more you can tell your story and move people to get involved, the bigger impact that you can make in the lives of youth. Once I realized that and how powerful my story was, I knew it was important to share it among others.
Through working in the foster care world, do you feel that you are able to connect to youth that are in foster care now?
This year I mentored about seven kids in foster care and I am currently mentoring two right now. In the beginning they are a little reserved, but you get to the point where they look forward to seeing you, and over time you get to see their personal and professional growth, and I know that I’m personally making a difference in the lives of youth. So I work 9-5, but this work is important to go outside that 9-5 to get involved within the lives of youth, and I do that naturally. I feel like that what they see is what they are going to become, so they see a professional that was once in their shoes and I try and relate in that fashion, “Hey, although you’re in this space right now, it’s temporary, long-term you can become anything in life.” I try and plant those seeds as I mentoring these youth on a regular basis.
What gives you hope about the foster care system in Texas?
That’s a hard question. I think, well, I know there are good people out there. My foster mother she raised 53 boys before she passed away, over her lifetime. It’s a system that although there are dark spots, there are a lot of good people, I think what gives me hope is that we can get to a point where we can bring stronger resources, more mentors, people that can go outside that 9-5 to really spend time with these youth, touch their hearts, touch their minds, and stimulate their minds.
Long story short, everyone coming together to really understand that there are too many of these kids really falling through the cracks, and it’s really going to take not just the non-profit sector, but different sectors coming together to help these youth be not just self-sufficient, but productive members of the community… Those were the seeds planted in my mind when I was a kid, that I could be the President, so I started to believe that. Confidence is a lot. We need to make sure these kids have that confidence and that self worth.
If you could say anything to foster kids in the state of Texas right now, what would you say to them?
What I talk to my mentees now is about relationships… they get exposed to different professionals in the community, but really understand that where they are is temporary. Understanding how to build relationships long-term is going to benefit them. Going out and getting involved in things they don’t normally get involved in, whether it’s in the tech community or the business community.
…Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you, that have done things that you haven’t done. Surround yourself with different industries, try to expand your mind. It’s easier said than done, but I wouldn’t be where I am without the relationships I had growing up in my life.
I like what you said about experiences, relationships, mentoring, because that’s something that anyone can do, right?
Anyone can do that.
Thank you, Elyas, for your time and for speaking with us. You are doing great work.