Sixto Cancel is being honored as a Champion of Change for Foster Care
For millions of foster youth in the United States, significant life lessons get lost in transit. Learning to emotionally cope, apply for college, and prepare for the future is difficult when any sense of stability could suddenly collapse.
As Americans, we grow up believing that it is our country given right that if we work hard, we will be able to see a better tomorrow.
However, that was not the case for my older brother who died of gun violence, my sister, who despite engaging in many job trainings, still lost her life to unhealthy choices, or my younger brother, who is incarcerated as a result of stealing food while homeless. Although this does not represent all of my ten siblings, it calls attention to the tragic outcomes of the majority of my siblings who have had interactions with state systems.
The interaction with a system should be an indication that one's life will be better because of the state's involvement, not an indication of negative life outcomes.
I was able to learn how to navigate life by tapping into the supportive adults around me, TV shows like Law and Order, and online resources. However, succeeding required me to overcome the outdated methods of our country’s foster care system, which does not adequately prepare youth for the challenges of aging out, happening for most at 18 or 21 years old. For many youth, leaving the system leads to disillusionment rather than a better life.
Thus, I have made it part of my life’s work to leverage technology, data and multimedia to change the narrative for America’s foster youth. In 2014, I made a commitment through the Clinton Global Initiative University to launch Think of Us, a nonprofit organization that is developing an online space for youth to access content that helps them navigate the world around them. An integral part of our program entails producing interactive videos that coach young people in the foster care system through life challenges large and small on a data driven platform. Through our videos, young people can learn how to do everything from preparing for court to connecting with new biological family members.
It is important to us to use technology to reach today’s foster youth—after all, they are a part of the Millennial generation, a demographic known for its digital nativity and embrace of innovation. Gone are the days of checking encyclopedias or reading manuals to obtain new information. Today, lectures on Algebra and world history are accessible on Kahn Academy with the click of a mouse, and YouTube offers lessons on everything from dating to doing taxes. Likewise, Think of Us is providing a new generation of foster youth with the how-tos that can set them on a trajectory to build confidence, skills, wealth, and a brighter future.
Beyond the interactive coaching videos, Think of Us is also planning to use and develop new technology innovations that have the potential to change the way people learn and engage with digital content. We seek to continue to crowdsource softwares to allow us to innovate our work even further, and collaborate with rising leaders in the technology field to advance progress.
We see technology not as a replacement for the human aspect of developing young people, but as an opportunity to build on what works and to reach Millennials where they are—and that’s online.
I hope our efforts inspire others who serve foster youth to join us in embracing the potential of technology to prepare this vulnerable demographic for the world ahead of them. With a united effort, we can ensure that young people can leave the foster system ready to succeed.
Sixto Cancel is a college student founder of Think of Us, a non-profit dedicated to innovating with data, technology and multi-media to serve vulnerable populations. Sixto is a fourth year student at Virginia Commonwealth University.