Jilyssa Stevens is very familiar with issues involving the Child Welfare System. In actuality, she’s not only familiar with the issue, but she knows about it first-hand.
The 20-year old sophomore at Sussex County Community College has spent many of her teenage years being “in the system.” Born in Brooklyn, Stevens moved to Essex County, N.J. and last year relocated to Sussex County and now has a place to call home. She is determined to work her way through college.
It hasn’t been easy, Stevens admitted. “I am a product of the child welfare system,” she said. “I know how it goes.”
A year ago, Stevens applied for a scholarship program. Through that process, she was able to obtain a lead on a program through the National Foster Youth Institute (NYFI). The NYFI organization is devoted to helping young people to get – and stay – on their feet. Stevens applied to attend an annual education trip to Washington, D.C., to lobby on behalf of the homeless and other “child welfare issues” affecting youth.
“One door closes and another opens,” Stevens said philosophically.
Stevens was thrilled when she was only one of 119 individuals selected from throughout the country to participate in this effort. As a member of the lobbying team, she met with numerous Congressional Representatives including Senator John Lewis, New Jersey Congressman Tom McArthur, and House Minority Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, and shared her personal story. Their efforts paid off as a bipartisan set of five bills intended to help youth, including one specific to homelessness that raises the age for eligibility from 18-23 for those young folks who need a place to stay. Homelessness in particular is a national crisis. In New Jersey alone, it is estimated that about 8,532 men, women and children are currently homeless.
The five bills that were passed help any child in the child welfare system, which is not limited to foster children, including children with deceased parents, and children taken away from their homes through DYFS.
“It’s so amazing to be part of this movement,” said Stevens. “I was so happy to be part of everything there from the workshops, and breakfast and dinner with Congressional leaders, and just feeling like I am making a difference.”
Stevens is not only making a difference in Washington, D.C., but she has become an integral part of the SCCC community. In September, the psychology major will serve as the Public Relations representative to the Student Government Association and this past year was a Student Ambassador. Her ultimate goal is to become a lawyer and “to continue helping others through my degree.”
“This is an exemplary student who has overcome tremendous obstacles.” said SCCC President Dr. Jon Connolly. “This has been a real adventure for her and we are very proud to call her one of our own. The future is very bright for this young woman.”
Meanwhile, Stevens isn’t through yet when it comes to her work with the Institute. Predominately a west coast initiative, she wants to bolster the organization’s presence on the east coast and has volunteered to be one of its leaders here. “I look forward to it!” she said.
Based on her efforts thus far, there is no doubt that Stevens will continue to make a difference in the lives of others now, and in the future.
Categories: Public 2-Year Schools