I grew up in a small, suburban community. I had two loving parents, three siblings, and we all lived under the same roof. I didn’t know much about foster care growing up. And even when the day did come where I left the safety of my small town, I continued to live my life naive to the realities of the foster care system. I believed foster care was a safe place for youth, a place they could go to find caring families and begin again with.
In 2017, I moved to Miami, and everything changed. It was here that I had the unique experience of meeting Daniel Konrad Puder, arguably the most eccentric, committed, loving man you will find involved in the foster care system today.
Daniel and his non-profit organization, My Life My Power, took me on the ride of a lifetime.
It all began at the Voices for Children Annual Gala Fundraiser. We walked through rooms of men and women dressed in stunning gowns and suits chatting with one another. Nelson Hincapie, the CEO of Voices 4 Children Miami shook both of our hands and thanked us for attending. We entered a ballroom and found our table. Little did we know, we were seated next to the keynote speaker. She was a woman that radiated strength, grace, beauty, and resilience. When she shared her story, I was shocked to learn that this same woman had been raised in the foster care system and had been abused and sex trafficked by her foster parent. I looked at Daniel in awe and asked, “How could this happen?” He looked back at me and said, “Scary, huh? But not unusual here in Miami. Let’s change that.”
I had no idea what Daniel had in mind, but not a month had passed when I got the call from him sharing with me the good news. “My Life My Power just got contracted with Voices 4 Children and Our Kids! It’s happening!”
The next couple of weeks, hours and hours were spent in the boardroom with executives from Our Kids, the Department of Children and Families, and other agencies. After collaborating on the mission of the project and the team had all been fingerprinted, My Life My Power began their pursuit of Miami-Dade’s highest-energy, highest-risk youth in the foster care system.
Daniel and I drove home to home for several weeks introducing ourselves and interviewing families that fit the profile. On the search, we met frustrated foster parents, we saw two bedroom homes where six children and a foster parent lived, but above all, we also saw hope. Amidst all of the fear and pain that many of these families were faced with, what we believe we witnessed was a community, hopeful that a powerful movement would refresh foster care. My Life My Power was determined to be the solution to their problems.
At the end of our search, we selected 17 youth to participate in My Life My Power’s three month evidence-based transformational mentorship, wraparound service, program.
Alongside these youth, Miami-Dade school police and case workers from every involved agency were selected to be trained as My Life My Power certified mentors to support the youths in their lives.
My Life My Power mentors arranged bi-weekly school and home visits to work with the youth, and at the end of each month the group of youth would meet for all-day training experiences that supported them on defining their vision and purpose in life. They got to look at the ways in which they show up in their own lives, their love languages, learning styles, past experiences, identify challenges in their lives, and problem solve for their future.
While the youth worked together, in a separate training, foster parents, Guardian ad Litems, case workers, and school police officers were receiving training experiences that supported them in becoming effective mentors in the lives of the youths they serve. Their experiences supported them in understanding their purpose, strengths, and the ways in which they connect with others.
On the final training experience day, the My Life My Power team decided to combine the group of mentors with the group of youths. The team met in Miami’s art district, Wynwood, and shared the news with the group. The kids appeared frustrated, and one girl even said out loud, “but I hate cops.” We stuck to the plan. Each youth got to pick their personal teams of school police officers, Guardian ad Litems, case workers, and foster parents and they were sent on their way to complete a vision board themed-scavenger hunt throughout the city. Two hours later, they returned, smiles on everybody’s faces, even those youth that claimed they hated police officers. In fact, I witnessed that same girl who self-proclaimed that she hated cops, asking for the school police officers contact information so that she could spend more time with them outside of the training. What My Life My Power was able to do to support in facilitating these relationships was absolutely invaluable. I firmly believe that there are youth in Miami-Dade at a significantly lower risk of committing delinquent or criminal acts in their futures because of the bonds they were able to build with their My Life My Power trained mentors.
After the data from the program had been analyzed, we found that not only had My Life My Power supported in facilitating these relationships between youth and mentor but they had measurable increases in self-esteem, self-confidence, empathy, and decreases in aggression.
The foster care system desperately needs loving, supportive individuals to implement transformational mentorship into the lives of these youths. My Life My Power made the difference that matters in Miami-Dade. If I have one recommendation it is only that you demand this program be brought to the foster care system in your city today.
To learn more about My Life My Power, visit their website at https://www.mylifemypower.org