FLORIDA’S CHELSEA BRAMBLETT: THE HEALING POWER OF COMMUNITY
My name is Chelsea. My childhood was spent in what many people might consider a stereotypical “broken home” with domestic violence and substance abuse as a familiar part of the equation. While my mother tried to help me and my sister, there was only so much she could do, so I found myself placed into foster care at the age of 15. If it wasn’t for a thoughtful case manager who introduced me to Florida Youth Shine, I may have simply “aged out” of the system at 18 and not thought of using my experiences to change other kid’s lives.
I became very involved in local chapter meetings and eventually served on the Florida Youth Shine state board. We have an annual event called “Children’s Week” where we organize face time with legislators in Tallahassee. The first year I was asked to share my story, all I could think of at first was “I can’t do this.” It’s hard enough talking to a group of strangers, let alone sharing deeply personal challenges with state representativ
es. Our mentors provided amazing support leading up to the event. Aside from gentle reminders about not chewing gum during our speech, they helped me and my foster brothers and sisters write, share, and rehearse our stories so that we felt prepared and confident. Thanks to that experience, I realized the importance of group support and the powerful impact our collective stories have on receptive hearts and minds.
This year’s Children’s Week theme was “using our past to improve the future”. During the prep period, we divided into a few groups and I had the honor of leading one of them. I suddenly realized that I had transitioned from the mentee to the mentor. This “full circle” moment unfolded when one youth told everyone that he looked up to me and now sees himself as a leader thanks to my encouragement.
I’ve officially fallen in love with advocacy. When FloridaYouth Shine joined FYA, it’s been so exciting to now be connected at the national level. My experience at Foster Youth in Action’s Leaders for Change Conference was mind-blowing! It’s been incredible meeting organizers in other states who share the same drive to make change. Connecting with each other and building that crucial support has made all the difference. If it wasn’t for groups like Florida Youth Shine and Foster Youth in Action, I think the system would change at an extremely slow rate.
Being a foster youth will always be part of my identity. It doesn’t define me, but it’s who I am. I am the expert of my story and other foster youth need me to use that story to help shape their lives for the better. I’m currently studying to be a social worker. Something tells me I’m going to have more “full circle” moments in the years to come.