Florida Youth SHINE
Our youth are leading the charge for a brighter tomorrow.
Florida Youth SHINE
Our youth are leading the charge for a brighter tomorrow.
Florida Youth SHINE
Our youth are leading the charge for a brighter tomorrow.
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About Us

Florida Youth SHINE is a youth run, peer driven organization of current and former youth in foster care or who have experienced homelessness, who are driven to empower, inspire, and lead.

We work hard to change the culture of Florida’s child welfare system from the inside out.

Mission statement

Our mission as advocates for the youth of Florida is to empower, improve, educate, and support the growth of tomorrow’s leaders through the combined knowledge and experience of today’s youth and supporters.

"In FYS, not only did I learn to be a true advocate for others and myself, but I helped make positive change for youth in care.” Kyle Johnson, Florida Youth SHINE Statewide Chair

Our History

In 2002, a bunch of dedicated child advocates noticed something seriously wrong with Florida’s child welfare systems. Kids across the state weren’t getting the fair chance they deserved. They were moved around frequently, often split from their brothers and sisters, and even had to hop from school to school. The worst part? Sometimes, the very system that was supposed to be their safety net let them down. Big time.

That’s when these advocates decided enough was enough. They banded together to start something awesome – Florida’s Children First. Their mission? To shake things up, make big changes, and turn the tide for Florida’s young heroes in care.

The best part? They realized that the real experts, the ones who knew the system inside out, were the young people themselves. For too long, youth stories, dreams, and voices were being left in the dark, not heard or seen. These advocates knew it was long past time to fix the situation. It was time to pass the microphone to the youth. 

In 2005, something epic happened. Florida’s Children First launched a youth-led organization called Florida Youth SHINE (FYS). Think of it as a launchpad for youth and young adults to educate, support, and champion each other. Youth voices, stories, and ideas are not just heard; they’re the main event, making waves across Florida and beyond.

Fast forward to now, and Florida Youth SHINE has grown into a powerhouse of change, led by young leaders, making a difference in Florida and all over the nation. 

Our Impact

Florida Youth SHINE will soon be celebrating 20 years, and oh boy, what a journey it’s been! In these last two decades, Florida Youth SHINE has become the go-to crew for youth voices in Florida, and yeah, we’re making noise on the national stage too. The FYS  family has grown to over 350 strong, spreading our wings to include not just our brothers and sisters in foster care, but also young people experiencing homelessness.

When the bigwigs and experts huddle up to talk about the challenges and game plans for kids in the system, guess who’s right there in the mix now? Yup, Florida Youth SHINE. We’re not just in the room; but leading the conversation, making sure every young voice is heard loud and clear.

Today, Florida Youth SHINE is not just part of the discussion but driving it. Our platform is all about amplifying the voices of our peers in care, making sure they’re not just heard but actually listened to and acted upon. And you know what? It’s working. Our voices are changing lives, bringing more benefits, protections, support, and pathways to success for thousands of young heroes across Florida.

Right from the get-go, Florida Youth SHINE has been all about making things better. We’re talking about real changes that make day-to-day life brighter and the future a whole lot shinier for young folks transitioning to independent living. So, here’s to 20+ years of making a difference, and here’s to many more. We’re just getting started, and with you on board, the sky’s the limit!

Florida Youth SHINE Changes Lives

Florida Youth SHINE has made instrumental changes by advocating for key legislation over the years. Completely youth-led initiatives have changed the lives of our brothers and sisters in foster care for years to come. Here’s a glimpse of what we’ve accomplished since 2005

Normalcy

Florida Youth SHINE spoke up and out, advocating for the right to do typical, everyday activities that their friends enjoy. Known as the “Normalcy” law, youth successfully promoted legislation allowing foster care youth to participate in sports, clubs, sleepovers with friends, and other activities that allow them to lead “normal” childhood lives.

Educating Kids About Their Rights

While Florida passed many great laws to help kids thrive, it doesn’t help us if we are never told about them. Or if we find out after we have aged out of the system and can no longer benefit from these rights. After five years of sharing our stories, we prevailed! Now, the law requires we be informed about our rights in an age-appropriate way- every six months! It also gives us a number we can call if we feel our rights are not being honored.

Extended Foster Care

It’s hard to be on your own at just 18 years old, especially after a tough childhood. It’s even harder to support yourself and pay rent, buy food, pay for transportation, and more. Florida Youth SHINE helped successfully change the laws that now allow youth to stay in foster care until age 21 and receive support to become independent adults. We continue to advocate to reduce and eliminate any barriers that keep youth from qualifying for extended foster care and PESS support that will help youth become more self-sufficient.

Keys to Independence

Youth voices helped steer hundreds of young people in the foster care system or experiencing homelessness onto the road to independence and self-sufficiency. Over nearly 20 trips to the capitol, members explained to decision-makers that without a program that helps them learn to drive like their schoolmates do, they struggle to attend school, hold down a job, help with younger siblings, and start their journey of adult life. These youth voices drove change in the system and achieved a groundbreaking program providing driver licenses and support to children in care

Sibling Protections

Florida Youth SHINE has successfully put a spotlight on the many challenges youth in care experience trying to stay connected when they enter care.  We have helped usher in changes that help keep siblings together.

Florida Youth SHINE Changes Lives

Florida Youth SHINE has made instrumental changes by advocating for key legislation over the years. Completely youth-led initiatives have changed the lives of our brothers and sisters in foster care for years to come. Here’s a glimpse of what we’ve accomplished since 2005.

Normalcy

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Florida Youth SHINE spoke up and out, advocating for the right to do typical, everyday activities that their friends enjoy. Known as the “Normalcy” law, youth successfully promoted legislation allowing foster care youth to participate in sports, clubs, sleepovers with friends, and other activities that allow them to lead “normal” childhood lives.
Click Here

Educating Kids About Their Rights

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While Florida passed many great laws to help kids thrive, it doesn’t help us if we are never told about them. Or if we find out after we have aged out of the system and can no longer benefit from these rights. After five years of sharing our stories, we prevailed! Now, the law requires we be informed about our rights in an age-appropriate way- every six months! It also gives us a number we can call if we feel our rights are not being honored.
Click Here

Extended Foster Care

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It’s hard to be on your own at just 18 years old, especially after a tough childhood. It’s even harder to support yourself and pay rent, buy food, pay for transportation, and more. Florida Youth SHINE helped successfully change the laws that now allow youth to stay in foster care until age 21 and receive support to become independent adults. We continue to advocate to reduce and eliminate any barriers that keep youth from qualifying for extended foster care and PESS support that will help youth become more self-sufficient.
Click Here

Keys to Independence

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Youth voices helped steer hundreds of young people in the foster care system or experiencing homelessness onto the road to independence and self-sufficiency. Over nearly 20 trips to the capitol, members explained to decision-makers that without a program that helps them learn to drive like their schoolmates do, they struggle to attend school, hold down a job, help with younger siblings, and start their journey of adult life. These youth voices drove change in the system and achieved a groundbreaking program providing driver licenses and support to children in care.
Click Here

Sibling Protections

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Florida Youth SHINE has successfully put a spotlight on the many challenges youth in care experience trying to stay connected when they enter care.  We have helped usher in changes that help keep siblings together.
"I was abandoned by my adoptive parents when I turned 18 and became an unaccompanied homeless youth. I struggled with food and housing as I was trying to pursue my college education. I want to have a better life. I don’t want to be another statistic. Programs like Florida Youth SHINE and the advocacy work they do make it easier for current and future foster youth like myself to succeed."
Khiloh Lamore

How We Make Change

At Florida Youth SHINE, we’re a team of passionate young leaders working hand-in-hand to transform the foster care experience. Using real-life stories and firsthand insights, we advocate for better policies and practices, offer peer connections, genuine mentorship, and spotlight the potential in every young person. Here, every voice matters and every action counts, paving the way for a brighter tomorrow.

Advocacy

Our members, driven by their own experiences, take center stage in legislative discussions, collaborate with key agencies, and shine in the media spotlight. Together, we're not only shaping policies but also inspiring movements nationwide, ensuring every child's rights and well-being are at the heart of every conversation and decision.

Florida Youth SHINE Chapters

We’re all about grassroots advocacy and making a statewide impact. Our local chapters are leading the way. Driven by youth with firsthand experience, our chapters are the heartbeat of our mission, driving change and representing diverse voices for reform.

Training

We’re championing voices and leading change through a variety of training offerings. Join youth-led training, engage in interactive workshops and dive into leadership development to amplify your voice and advocate for foster care reform.

Quarterly Statewide Meetings

We’re in this together, and we’re ready to shake things up for the better. Our dynamic statewide meetings unite youth representatives and mentors from all chapters.

Peer Connections, Mentorship, & Support

Connect, Advocate, Lead: Empowering Youth Voices in Foster Care. Join FYS for fun events, action-packed meetings, and mentorship opportunities to make a real difference.

#YouthCanSHINEwith: Campaign

We believe youth voices ignite change. From listening to action, discover how Florida Youth SHINE's campaign transforms foster care experiences into powerful reform initiatives.

Children’s Week

Every year, during Children’s Week, Florida Youth SHINE heads to the Capitol to make our voices heard.

Join the Movement

Imagine being part of a powerful network that stretches across Florida, where your ideas and experiences spark change! At Florida Youth SHINE, our 15 vibrant chapters are like epicenters of energy and action, waiting for you. Dive in, connect, and stand up for what matters alongside friends who get it. Your voice can make waves. So, what do you say? Ready to SHINE with us?

“After feeling so alone in care, Florida Youth SHINE led me to find other youth like myself that wanted to fight for change within the system.”
Rebekka Behr, Florida Youth SHINE Legislative Chair

Who Can Join

If you’re between the ages of 13-26 and have firsthand experience with out-of-home care, such as foster care, group homes, adoption, non-relative care, reunification, or are or have experienced homelessness, we’d love to have you join our FYS family. We value the diversity and unique perspectives that each member brings.

What You’ll Do

Joining Florida Youth SHINE means stepping into a community that cares deeply about addressing the unique needs of youth in your local area. Together, you and your fellow members will meet once a month to collaborate, problem-solve, and come up with innovative solutions for real impact.

As a member, you’ll be the powerful voice of youth, advocating for change not just in your community but statewide. Your voice matters, and with Florida Youth SHINE, you have the platform to make it heard.

Why Join?

Florida Youth SHINE isn’t just another group, it’s a family where your experiences transform into action. Here, you’re not just a member, you’re a trailblazer, a voice for the voiceless. Dive into a world where your journey inspires change, where your ideas light up rooms, and where your dreams for a better system turn into reality. You’ll connect with peers who’ve walked in your shoes, collaborate on projects that matter, and grow into a leader who shapes the future. At FYS, we’re more than a team – we’re a force for change, and you’re our missing piece. Come, let’s make history together.

Florida Youth SHINE Chapters

Pensacola

Tallahassee

Pinnelas/ Pasco

Orlando

Hillsborough

NatureCoast

ManaSota

SouthWest 

Brevard

TreasureCoast

Palm Beach

Broward

Miami

Florida Youth SHINE is organized into 15 chapters spanning the state of Florida. These chapters serve as local hubs and the backbone of FYS. They provide an opportunity for young individuals to actively participate, learn, and advocate for themselves and their peers.

Don’t have a chapter near you? No problem, we offer many opportunities statewide and virtually and welcome all those interested.

Want to start a chapter? We are currently expanding and would love to have a chapter near you. Please email Kaya, our Community Engagement Manager if you are interested in bringing a Florida Youth SHINE Chapter to your county.

Upcoming Trainings, Activities & Events

Dive into a world where your voice echoes in the halls of power, from chatting with the governor to shaping rules with the Department of Children and Families! With Florida Youth SHINE, every event is your stage: local meet-ups, state-wide gatherings, and cool advocacy sessions—all led by awesome youth like you. Check out our calendar and step into the spotlight—it’s your time to SHINE!

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Youth Voices Amplified

Dive into the Heart of Advocacy with Us! Join Florida’s Children First and Florida Youth SHINE as we unveil a dynamic storytelling experience like no other! Crafted, edited, and brought to life entirely by our vibrant FYS members, these digital tales are raw, real, and ready to resonate. Let’s amplify our truths together – hit play and step into our world!

If you are interested in using digital stories for a training or meeting, please reach out as we have a comprehensive digital story toolkit available.

Meet Our Statewide Board

FYS is completely youth-led. Chapters elect representatives to lead statewide events, drive decision making and run programs. Meet our amazing FYS Statewide Board.

Rebekka "Bek" Behr

Chair

Brian Thompson

Vice Chair

Kyle Johnson

Admin Chair

Kyle Johnson

FYS Statewide Chair
(Orlando)

Brian Thompson

FYS Vice Chair
(Tallahassee)

Rebekka Behr

FYS Legislative Chair
(Tallahassee/ Palm Beach)

Alexia Nechayev

FYS Events & Meetings Chair
(Palm Beach)

Sophia Coffey

FYS Communications & Marketing Chair (Palm Beach)

Selena Rose

FYS Admin Chair
(SouthWest)

Isaac Cedeno

FYS Board Delegate
(ManaSota)

Meet Our Florida Youth SHINE Staff

Rebekka "Bek" Behr

Chair

Brian Thompson

Vice Chair

Kyle Johnson

Admin Chair

Maria Batista

Florida Youth SHINE Statewide Coordinator

Kaya Lee

Florida Youth SHINE Community Engagement Manager

Resources for Youth in Care

Learn about the many resources created by youth for youth, from tip sheets to handbooks and more. Check out our resources. 

At Florida Youth SHINE, our advocacy stretches across multiple realms—legislative, statewide, national, media, executive branch, and community. Through every facet, whether we’re influencing state policies, captivating national audiences, or hosting local trainings, we’re guided by our collective insights.

Here’s a glimpse into all the ways we’re advocating for you!

Legislative Advocacy

We place the voices of youth at the forefront of our advocacy efforts. As members, we actively contribute to determining legislation, developing persuasive talking points, and influencing laws that directly impact the lives of children in foster care. Each year, we participate in our youth action cycle where we choose what issue we want to work on for legislative change. We meet regularly with state legislators to offer our first-hand testimonies and participate in rule-making committees. By sharing our personal insights and lived experiences, we ensure that the voices and needs of youth in care are not only heard but also acted upon.
 

Media Advocacy

We turn up the volume through media advocacy, ensuring that our youth voice resonates in conversations about foster care. Our members don’t just grab headlines; they command them. They fearlessly speak their truth, capturing the attention of reporters, gracing the pages of articles, making waves in news reports, and captivating audiences through radio interviews.

Executive Branch Advocacy

We work closely with the Department of Children and Families (DCF) and other key agencies to ensure that policies are effectively implemented. By participating in rule-making committees, advising on policy development, and providing valuable insights and recommendations, we strive to create a system that prioritizes the well-being and rights of every child.

Community Advocacy

Our members travel across the state to lead informative training sessions, educate the state, and improve the system as a whole. Through these powerful trainings, they share their personal recommendations and experiences with a diverse audience of stakeholders and professionals. The impact is clear: people all over Florida are gaining valuable knowledge and tools to advocate for meaningful improvements that benefit children in the welfare system. 

Statewide Advocacy

Every year, our members come together to identify the most pressing legislative priorities. They rank them, discuss them, and decide where our advocacy focus should be throughout the state. These priorities guide our work, drive our initiatives, and give us a clear direction for making a difference that truly matters. Most importantly, they’re decided by YOU for YOU!

National Advocacy

We don’t stop at making a difference just in Florida- we’re actively involved in national advocacy efforts, inspiring change in the foster care system nationwide. Our model has sparked similar movements, amplifying the voices of youth in care on a larger scale. Through collaborations with national organizations, policymakers, and stakeholders, we advocate for policy reforms and enhanced support systems beyond our community, contributing to the broader movement aimed at improving the lives of youth in care throughout the United States. Last year, we even visited the White House! (Twice!)

Policy & Initiatives Team

The YOUTH Policy & Initiative Team is a dynamic group designed for youths aged 13-26 to take the helm and influence pivotal decisions at both community and statewide levels. Over a year, members seamlessly blend their personal experiences with advocacy, channeling their unique narratives to instigate profound change within the child welfare system. Members will find themselves at the nexus of policymaking, joining in our round table discussions, providing feedback on key documents, and fervently representing the concerns and priorities of their peers. From joining dedicated task forces that dive deep into significant issues to offering feedback on evolving policies, participants are immersed in an experience that amplifies leadership and advocacy prowess. The team’s activities are designed with flexible virtual engagements and cater to a diverse schedule. Dive into a world where youth voices resonate, driving transformative change.

We’re all about grassroots advocacy and making a statewide impact. Our local chapters are leading the way. Driven by youth with firsthand experience, our chapters are the heartbeat of our mission, driving change and representing diverse voices for reform.
 
We employ a strategic, grassroots approach to advocacy through local chapters spread across the state. These chapters, integral to the organization’s mission, consist of driven young individuals who have experienced state care firsthand. Serving as localized hubs of activism, they identify region-specific challenges, conduct community outreach, and spearhead local initiatives. By channeling their unique experiences and insights, these chapters provide the foundation for Florida Youth SHINE’s broader statewide advocacy, ensuring that diverse voices and concerns are represented in the collective push for reform.

FYS Youth-Led Trainings 

When it comes to expertise in the system, we, the youth in the system, have valuable, lived experience expertise. Florida Youth SHINE amplifies our voices to educate people around the state on topics that impact us. Florida Youth SHINE shares our stories and experiences directly, holding our own trainings that are fun and easy for our peers to relate to. We also participate in workshops professionals present to provide a real-world perspective on the system. Want to be part of a youth-led training?  Want to request a training in your area? For more information on trainings, content, or participation, contact us.

Recent trainings sessions included: 

  • Our Voices, Our Stories- A Digital Storytelling Workshop Discussing Issues in Foster Care
  • We Are Family – Even If I don’t Have All My Brothers & Sisters With Me!
  • Wam, Bam, Pow! Bringing out the Superhero in Every Kid
  • It’s the Little Things that Matter- Every day actions that can impact our future!
  • How #youthcanSHINE
  • Authentic Youth Engagement
  • Siblings
  • Youth Advocacy Workshops

 

Leadership & Youth Training

Ready to tap into your voice? Step up and become a changemaker of tomorrow! Dive deep into tailored self-advocacy training, forge lasting connections with peers, and engage directly with the community to amplify your voice. We believe in your inherent power and passion.

Florida Youth SHINE has a place for you; whether it’s a member of your local chapter, a statewide board member, or a youth advocate, we equip you with the leadership skills you need to be a strong advocate for change. Join us, harness these tools, and rise as the inspiring leader you are destined to be. Let’s ensure all our brothers and sisters in foster care can SHINE!

Education of Youth and Adults 

Not only do we offer a variety of youth-led training throughout the state to equip practitioners and caregivers with skills to help young people, but we also educate youth. FYS members lead workshops, trainings, and create publications for young people to learn about their rights, how to be an advocate and leader and much more. Check out our resource section here.

We’re in this together, and we’re ready to shake things up for the better. Our dynamic statewide meetings unite youth representatives and mentors from all chapters.
 
Four times per year, Florida Youth SHINE leaders from around the state come together for learning, fun, advocacy, and to take action. Led by the Florida Youth SHINE Statewide Board, members learn from their peers and come together to discuss and tackle key issues, set priorities, receive leadership training, and foster valuable skills in public speaking and strategic sharing.Of course, we take time to have fun with once-in-a-lifetime opportunities such as a trip to Universal Studios, Bowling, Arcades, and even snow tubing!

Peer Connection Events

Hang out with your friends and peers in foster care. Meet new ones. Have fun. Support each other. And learn more about how you can speak out to change the system. When you join FYS you join our “FYS Family” and have peers that share common experiences in the system. Find connections, friends, and be part of the FYS family. FYS also offers virtual peer connections each quarter for fun, prizes, and networking with your peers. Check out our events section to attend our next peer connection event.

Virtual Opportunities and Action Hours 

You can be a voice for real change. It’s easy and accessible.  Every month! Our monthly FYS Florida Statewide Meeting and Action Hours allow you to amplify your voice on any issues, policies, and concerns you care about. You can share resources, ideas, and information.  The “Action Hour” provides an outlet for action anywhere you are in Florida by joining monthly events, listening sessions, and interactive advocacy action hours where you can share your expertise to make a positive change in an hour or less! 

Mentorship

Our FYS Chapter Mentors are the core of our program. Florida Youth SHINE has over 14 local chapters throughout the state. Each chapter has committed adult volunteer supporters to work with and assist youth members in becoming leaders and advocates in their chapter. Youth build impactful relationships with our adult supporters around the state, and Chapter Mentors work with youth to help them develop critical skills, define and work on issues, and assist in preparation for meetings and presentations.

Our Action Campaign is the result of a youth-led process that began with input from hundreds of current and former foster youth. Florida Youth SHINE chapters held listening sessions starting in March of 2022. We asked 250 youth, ages 13-26, to discuss their experiences in the foster care system. We also asked them to describe what supports helped, or could have helped, them thrive.

Their responses created Florida’s foster care “BURNING WALL” of issues – issues that the youth experts identified as ways in which the foster care system can be improved. The Policy and Initiative team (PI Team), a group of youth leaders from Florida Youth SHINE interested in policy, sorted the identified issues into four main themes.

For each topic in this priority list, members examined the root cause of the issue, placed the problem into context, shared their experiences, examined data, looked at solutions in other states, and compiled recommendations.

  1. SAFETY, LOVE, QUALITY, & STABILITY
  2. HOUSING & ECONOMIC SECURITY
  3. INDIVIDUALS & SUPPORT TO HELP US INTO ADULTHOOD
  4. ENGAGEMENT & POWER

 

Click here to learn more about our campaign.

YouthcanSHINE Campaign Policy Report

YouthcanSHINE Campaign Executive Report

Every year, during Children’s Week, Florida Youth SHINE heads to the Capitol to make our voices heard.
 
It’s a full week of making a life-changing impact for the youth of Florida. We meet with the Department of Children and Families (DCF) as well as over 80 legislators to share our needs and advocate for important issues affecting children in care. This event not only provides us with the opportunity to engage directly with decision-makers but also offers valuable training sessions that equip us with the skills and knowledge needed to effectively drive conversations and push for concrete improvements. Through our presence and advocacy efforts during this significant event, we actively contribute to shaping policies and initiatives that better support and empower Florida’s youth.

Rebekka "Bek" Behr

Legislative Chair

Rebekka Behr is Florida Youth SHINE’s 2023-2024 Legislative Chair. Rebekka is currently 25 years old and is a well-established Foster Youth Advocate who has been advocating for Foster Youth since she was 16 years old in the Foster Care System in Florida. Rebekka has spent time giving back to the Foster Care Community through volunteering with Independent Living Programs such as Vita Nova and bringing 600 duffle bags to Foster Youth across the state with the Florida Youth Leadership Academy Class of 2015. After aging out of the Foster Care System, Rebekka attended Florida State University and became an Unconquered Scholar. Through the Unconquered Scholars Program, Rebekka found her true passion to advocate for herself and others while finding her chosen family.

After graduating from college in 2020 with the support of programs such as Best Foot Forward, Rebekka has been advocating on local, statewide, national, and international levels for foster youth through Florida Youth SHINE She is part of the National Youth Engagement Advisory Council, National Foster Youth Institute Class of 2023, Florida’s Child and Family Well-Being Council, and works with YMCA and Lambda Theta Alpha Latin Sorority, Inc.. Rebekkah spends time helping former foster youth and homeless youth through guidance on low cost rental housing as well as one-on-one support in going back to school, finding stable housing, and applying for jobs. Rebekka was Florida Youth SHINE’s Statewide Chair from 2021-2023 and was able to celebrate FYS’s victory in passing the Nancy C. Detert Champion for Children Act in 2023.

In Rebekka’s free time, she enjoys baking, traveling, photography, spending time with her brother Jacob, her sister Charlie, and her godchildren: Caden, Rey, and Zola.

Brian Thompson

Vice Chair

Hello everyone! My name is Brian Thompson!

I am 22 years old and I am currently majoring in Music Composition. I was in care from the age of 16 until I aged out at 18. My time in care was well except for a few times I didn’t know my rights. One of those times was being separated from my sister. When I, myself entered into care that was the second time my sister and I were separated from each other. The first was when she went into the foster care system. Having to endure that pain for a second time definitely made me feel as if I was reliving my trauma from my first experience. Especially because my sister was my first best friend. She was also one of the first people in my life to truly embrace me fully for who I am. I wish every day that I knew I had the right to see my sister so I would not have to play catch up with the time we lost. The other time my rights were violated was when I did not go to court except for when I was aging out of care. Throughout my entire time of care, I have always heard about my court dates and even asked if I was told about them (after the fact). I was even asked if I wanted to go, to which I said yes, but I was still left out of my court dates. If I would have known that I had the right to go to court I would have truly fought for myself to go. Anyone who is involved with the system can tell you that court is one of the most essential parts of being in care. I missed out on a major part of my experience that could have shaped my time in care to a better one.

Kyle Johnson

Statewide Chair

Hi everyone! My name is Kyle Johnson!

I am 22 years old and I’m excited to be working on the Statewide Board this year! I am currently attending the University of Central Florida for my Bachelor’s in Social Work. I was placed into foster care at the age of 14 and aged out when I turned 18 in 2019. During my time in care, I was placed in a group home setting for the first two years. After that, I transitioned into non-relative care with my close friend’s family. That transition was the first time I was given the opportunity to be involved in my case and advocate for myself. It was because of that opportunity that I was able to move and remain at my high school. For the last year, I have been working with FYS to help advocate for and empower my peers to be successful despite experiencing foster care. I have learned a lot about Florida’s Child Welfare system since joining FYS and have had the amazing opportunity to work with my peers to make an impact on the future of our foster youth. I look forward to the change we can continue to make together!

Alexia Nechayev

FYS Events & Meeting Chair
(Palm Beach)

Hello, My name is Alexia Nechayev. I am 25 years old and I am an alumna of Florida International University where I received my B.A. in Psychology. My future career goal is to be an Assistant Behavioral Analyst and Lawyer. I was in care for about one year from age 17 to 18. Prior to entering care, I only knew about the negative stigma regarding foster care and while in care that narrative was unfortunately my experience.

In school I felt like I was on display because my status in care was broadcast to other students and in my placement behavior was leveraged for “privileges” that should be a natural right of all children. Because I did not know my rights I did not know that what I was experiencing was wrong. Today this is exactly why I advocate, because I don’t want this to be the same for other youth who are experiencing foster care.

This is my second year on the FYS Statewide Board and I’m happy to be the Events and Meetings Chair this year because my main goal through advocacy is to reach as many people as possible. My favorite thing as a board member is to see how comfortable members become while working together. The community needs to know that youth in foster care are real people, going through some of the hardest moments of their life and youth need to know that their voice is powerful. I believe that we have to speak up and bring these issues to people’s attention so that they do not forget us. Advocacy, education and consistency is the only way.

Sophia Coffey

Communications and Marketing Chair

Sophia Coffey, 21, began advocating in 2019 for foster and homeless youth. She grew up in Palm Beach County, Florida, where the beaches are always just a short ride away. She lived in care from the ages of 16-18, during which time she was placed in 6 different group homes, shelters, non-relative housing, and licensed care. When she first entered care, it was like entering a foreign territory. She had just been brought into the system after being arrested and placed on home detention. The backdrop of house arrest made the task of constantly adapting to new families, schools, and homes even more challenging. Moreover, navigating these transformations was intertwined with her journey into womanhood, further underscoring the unique difficulties she faced during her time in care.

Sophia hopes to form lasting connections with her peers while actively learning and discussing policies in other states that can be brought home to improve policies within her state and community. Sophia has recently explored a new way to advocate through The Miss America Scholarship Organization, working with other strong women to create the change they want to see.

Selena Rose

Admin Chair

Hi everyone! My name is Selena Rose!

I am 23 years old and I’m currently a junior at Florida Gulf Coast University working on my Bachelors in Social Work. I was put in foster care when I was 15 years old. People say it’s abnormal for teenagers to enter foster care, but it does happen. My first placement was at a group home, the second was a non-relative placement which didn’t last long, and my last placement was at a licensed foster home. At the age of 16, while I was living at my foster home, I had the option to be put up for adoption. I had personal reasons why I chose not to. That is why I left foster care at 18. I was at that foster home until I moved into my college dorms in August 2018. Years before, I entered foster care. I wanted to earn a Bachelors’s in Resort and Hospitality Management. I still want to earn that degree, but I also had an interest in wanting to work in the foster care system because of my experiences. Because of that, I choose to take a break from culinary and pursue my other dream. After I graduate, I plan to transfer to Florida State University (FSU) for my Masters. I might get a Minor in Psychology also. Having a voice for foster care means a lot to me in so many different ways. One is, I was never explained my rights while in care. As a result, I had to find out about my grandfather’s passing 6 months after. I don’t want any child in care to not see their family members and go through what happened to me. That is one of the many reasons why I love what FYS does for youth in care. I am delighted that to be one of the persons selected for the position. I promise that I will be a phenomenal Board Delegate Member and I can’t wait to start this new “chapter” in my life.

Isaac Cedeno

FYS Board Delegate
(ManaSota)

Isaac Cedeno is a dynamic individual with a multifaceted background and a deep commitment to serving others. As the Florida Youth Shine Board Delegate, Isaac actively represents and advocates for the voices of young people in the state. Alongside his role as a case manager in Sarasota for CASL – Community Assists and Supported Living, he dedicates himself to providing essential support and guidance to youth in need.

Isaac’s involvement extends beyond his work with CASL, as he collaborates with the Safe Children’s Coalition, an organization focused on ensuring the well-being and safety of children in the community. Through his participation in community youth-led events, Isaac actively contributes to creating a positive and empowering environment for young individuals to thrive.
In addition to his dedication to youth services and community organizations, Isaac has a creative side that he loves to explore. He enjoys making reggaeton music with his friends, using music as a way to express himself and connect with others. Isaac’s passion for music allows him to tap into his creativity and brings joy to his life and those around him.

Furthermore, Isaac recognizes the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle and personal well-being. He prioritizes his physical fitness by engaging in regular workouts, which not only benefits his own health but also serves as a positive example for others.


Isaac Cedeno’s friendly, helpful nature, combined with his creativity and commitment to service, make him a remarkable individual. Whether he is advocating for youth, working with community organizations, creating music, or focusing on his own well-being, Isaac consistently demonstrates a genuine desire to make a positive impact on the lives of others.

Maria Batista

Florida Youth SHINE

Statewide Coordinator

Maria Batista joined the Florida’s Children First staff as the Florida Youth SHINE Statewide Coordinator in 2021. Maria’s professional and educational background coupled with her lived experience in the foster care system equips her with the tools, skills, and perspective to empower youth to become leaders and advocates around the State of Florida. Growing up, Maria spent seven years in the Florida Foster Care system and saw the injustices that youth experienced first-hand. Maria’s advocacy journey began when she joined Florida Youth SHINE as a teenager. Maria received her bachelor’s degree in Social Work from Florida International University. Prior to this role, Maria worked at the Guardian ad Litem Office and with youth experiencing homelessness at Vita Nova.

Kaya Lee

Florida Youth SHINE

Community Engagement Manager

Kaya brings a depth of experience to Florida Youth SHINE and the Florida’s Children First team. Her core goal is expanding the leadership opportunities and mentorship provided to our youth on a local level because she believes every youth is one connection away from obtaining the support needed to reach their full potential.

Kaya began as a volunteer as college and took her first position as a Family Support worker before graduating from Florida Gulf Coast University with her bachelor’s degree in psychology. She next became an Independent Living Counselor helping foster children master an array of life skills. Then Kaya took on the job of Quality Management Specialist with the Children’s Network of Southwest Florida. Kaya also took on the additional task of serving as a mentor with the Southwest Chapter of Florida Youth SHINE for five years. Having devoted her personal and professional time to helping youth prepare for their future, joining our team was a natural next step.

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