My Mission Possible: Healing Foster Youth
A PhD in Public Health alumna offers children the support they need to overcome the odds
“Believing in yourself is the first step to making a change in your life. I have been an advocate for foster care and adopted youth since 2005, when I started a nonprofit called Through Their I’s—Mentoring Program. The group focuses on mentoring and bringing about change in the foster care system. Additionally, I am one of the founding members of GA EmpowerMEnt, a group supported through the Jim Casey Metro Atlanta Youth Opportunity Initiative. It has since expanded and is now making a difference statewide by offering educational scholarships, trainings, and resources to current foster care youth.
“Mentoring is a big piece of the support system that’s missing. The chances of young adults overcoming their circumstances are much higher if they have at least one caring and supportive mentor. Helping them feel safe is the key to starting to heal. Earning my PhD in Public Health gave me that broader perspective on social change. We learned to apply our skills and knowledge in practical ways in our communities so those initiatives could have massive impact.
“Dr. Richard Jimenez was the chair of my dissertation committee, and he always encouraged me to keep moving toward my goals. He pushed me to put together a proposal for the American Public Health Association (APHA) conference, which was accepted the same year I defended my dissertation. I presented my study on HIV-prevention strategies at APHA’s 2011 annual meeting in Washington, DC
“That support and mentorship at Walden really framed how I live my life today. It inspired me to start a health and wellness ministry at my church. In addition to foster care, health is my primary interest, and advocating for both is my passion. I’m grateful that I get to serve the areas I love—it’s everything that I want to be doing.
“I’ve mentored one girl for about 10 years and have seen her blossom into a full-blown advocate for children in foster care. She is very passionate, and I admire her ability to give back; she now wants to help me get a mentoring program back up and running. I’ve always encouraged her to complete what she starts.
“Walden’s ‘start small’ focus also motivated me to write my autobiography, which begins when I was abandoned as a baby. I published From Abandonment to Abundance: A Memoir to Inspire the Unwanted last year. I want to use my experience in foster care to inspire youth to believe that they can do anything they want.
I would love to see them healed from their past so they can really flourish in their present and future. A lot of them are so talented, but they’re hiding in the shadows. I want to help them see that it’s OK to dream and there are resources available to help them.”
Dr. Anita Alston Ellis ’11, a PhD in Public Health graduate, is a public health analyst whose passion is advocacy for youth in foster care.