Robots, Fosters and Our Trip to the South…

Robots, Fosters and Our Trip to the South…

robot pic

Team Fusion Members and their Robot – competitors at the Western Regional Robot Competition

By Jamie Lee Evans

This past weekend I went to a regional competition of youth robot makers. The youth ranged in age from 12 years old to high school seniors and designed, built and programmed little robots to do specific tasks in a tournament.  I am not a robot maker, and while I was impressed by creation of essentially computer machines from parts that could handle tasks with and without being “driven” (tasks included picking up blocks, climbing metal hills and suspending from bars)–what really got me were the hundreds of parents, siblings, cousins, uncles, friends and neighbors who came from as far as Montana to cheer on the young robot creators. I had the opportunity to talk to moms and dads who were there supporting their kids. I watched siblings climb bleachers to watch the robots battle it out. And most exciting was the chance I had to speak with the young robot team members themselves. These youth were deeply impressive. They told me all about how they shared leadership on their teams, what their design process was like, how they fundraised, governed, recruited, and elevated less experienced, but nonetheless, interested youth. They had journals detailing their team’s work; poster presentations of their mission statements and connection to community; and shout outs to their mentors, funders and supporters.

The youth were bright, articulate and eager to talk. I was blown away by their ability to
reflect about ego-less co-design; the importance of parent allies, mentors and coaches; and how the experience of the robot competition has enhanced their success in school and sense of self. Whenever I attend events where I witness youth achieving success, I am acutely aware of what it takes for their accomplishments…and it always
involves family and other support. This was no different.

As Ricardo, Miguel, Bethanea, Kevin, Jeanie, Ray and I begin our journey to
Arkansas to set up and show Foster Youth Museum’s Lost Childhoods exhibition, I
am mindful of how foster youth leaders make community, create a sense of family and gather allies. We are a multi-cultural and diverse crew, ages 20 to 51, queer, straight, foster, adopted, non-foster, urban, rural. And we belong together. Our youth team has made sacrifices to spend eight days on this journey. They have done homework in advance, given up shifts in their regular jobs and solicited support from their supporters and friends to get them to airports, pack and otherwise prepare for this trip. We are each committed to telling the stories of foster youth, and portraying those stories with dignity, respect and honor.

We aren’t traveling with parents, neighbors and friends but we will be received
by people who are glad we are coming…who invited us with excitement and have been looking forward to our arrival for months. For fosters, this is a not exactly a normal thing, and boy is it welcome! We are traveling seven deep, have the heart of our foster sisters and brothers with us, and like the young robot makers, we have the leadership, vibrance and energy of our smart youth docent team. The FYM Team probably includes a youth who could build a robot from scratch, but especially includes the most resilient and gifted storytellers. There won’t be bleachers set up to watch our success in Fayetteville, Arkansas, but there will be crowds that gather over our three day show and folks that come just to hear the young people talk about what life is like for the hundreds of thousands of young people in care in the United States. We will join together with former foster youth from Arkansas who will bring items for a Pop Up Museum on foster youth lives and I am especially looking forward to discovering our differences and similarities.

Ever since we booked this show, people said to me, why the South for your first big out of state show? I said, why not?
We look forward to what we can bring to Arkansas and are eager to take in what Arkansas will bring to us.

FYM Ark Travel PicFoster Youth Museum staff (Jamie and Jeanie) midway to Arkansas with Ricardo, Kevin, Bethanea and Miguel (Ray our amazing curator, will meet us in Oklahoma)…

Fostering Experience in Grace Cathedral

By Cole Vanwey

Hello, I am Cole Vanwey. I am a youth advocate who works to transform systems that impact youth in their transition to adulthood. I am a member of Humboldt County’s Behavioral Health Board, and a commissioner on the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Commission.

Members and Friends of the Humboldt County Transition Aged Youth Collaboration. Cole Vanwey in Plad
Members, friends, and staff of the Humboldt County Transition Aged Youth Collaboration. From left, Tristin Severns, Ipo Ma’e, Cole Vanwey, and Leah Lamattina.

I am also an advisory board member for the Humboldt County Transition Age Youth Collaboration (HCTAYC). We are an advocacy group based in Humboldt County and we work to educate our community and bring youth voice to decision making tables locally and nationally. Our four focus areas in which we create impact are: foster care, mental health, juvenile justice and homelessness. HCTAYC is a partner Organization of the Y.O.U.T.H. Training Project (YTP) and California Youth Connection (CYC). I want to tell you about my experience working in partnership with YTP to help set up the Foster Youth Museum’s Lost Childhoods exhibit in Grace Cathedral of San Fransisco.

As an advocate I do a great many things. I attend local meetings, give trainings to systems impacting professionals, participate in conferences nationwide, develop curriculum… the list goes on. Throughout my three years of advocacy, my greatest tools have been my voice, my ability to write, and to carry out trainings.

Working to help set-up the Foster Youth Museum has been quite a different experience as far as advocacy goes. I have never set up a museum, though I have had a lot of experience with miscellaneous jobs building, cleaning, painting, and other laborious tasks.

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Cole Vanwey and Tristin Severns working on hanging the exhibition’s photography.

Setting up the exhibit was indeed quite a bit more tedious than I had expected. We had to drill into  stands so we could prop up certain vitrines to be more visually appealing. The stands required a bit of touch-up with paint. Cleaning was a constant. Setting up the vitrines, we had to be mindful of fingerprints and dust. There was a lot of moving things around and mindfulness about how people take things in visually. Changing angles, adjusting lighting and measuring the distance between images are just a few examples. I enjoyed learning about the strategies the museum used to present information for various ways of thinking. We used video, sounds, images, documents and written materials.

So many things go into setting up a traveling exhibit, one of the most important being where you decide to set it up so that you might capture the right audience or get a lot of interested viewers. The Grace Cathedral in San Fransisco was absolutely stunning. Our team was very fortunate to work in such a beautiful environment, and we were very appreciative to have such a great venue. If you have not seen the magnificence of the cathedral I recommend you check it out. The architecture that is put into the place is truly unique. The sun beaming through the vibrant colors of the enormous and numerous stained glass windows cast a rainbow of light throughout the building, greatly complimenting the appeal of our exhibit. The traffic of people in and out throughout each day was quite surreal and was a wonderful opportunity to get interested viewers for the exhibit.

Overall I could say that my experience working at the museum was enlightening. It helped teach me of yet another way to advocate and make a difference in the systems that are set to support our youth into transitioning to adulthood. One of my favorite things about the Museum is the fact that it captures a timeline of peoples’ experiences through an ever changing system. There is a lot to be learned here, including how the system has changed and how so many of our stories relate. It is emotionally healing for me to see so many people selflessly putting their stories out there so that it may impact others and truly make a difference in the way we think of each other and our experiences. The Foster Youth Museum is a wonderful tool of advocacy and if you have not checked it out, you are missing out.