Today we’d like to introduce you to Regan Williams.
Regan, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
When I was 23 years old, I was a camp counselor for kids in the foster care system. I still remember meeting my camper- her spunky, fierce spirit captured my heart. She was eight years old and had intense brown eyes and a sweet crooked smile she would flash when she was doing something sneaky. It turns out she was the one to tell me there was another male counselor at the camp who was “crushing on me”. This man later turned out to be my husband. She was a smart girl.
I saw the power and pain in the faces of the kids I worked with that summer long ago, and both my husband and I knew we couldn’t just walk away from these amazing kids. We knew we wanted foster care to be part of our story as much as it was a part of theirs.
What followed over the years was a journey into the world of the foster care system and the children who move through it. We became foster parents with the desire to adopt. I became a C.A.S.A. (Court Appointed Special Advocate) and helped re-unify a seven years old boy with his mom. My husband and I helped recruit and mobilize our community to get involved in a system desperate for reform, and kids desperate for permanency, But we knew there was something more we needed to do.
In 2018, we turned our focus to Transitional Age Youth or “T.A.Y”. These are the 16-21 years old navigating their way out of the foster care system and into adulthood. We knew they needed support because the stats showed it. This is a population facing an incredible lack of support from our communities and vulnerable to all kinds of negative outcomes including homelessness, incarceration and trafficking. This injustice fueled our passion to start something new. And so, Seen and Heard was born.
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Fear always has been (and probably always will) be my biggest challenge. I am not a person of color- I am a white woman in a position of privilege. I was raised in a stable home environment. I never faced economic insecurity. So often as I consider the challenges ahead, I hear a very negative inner critic. I don’t know what it’s like to be raised in an abusive home, or live in poverty, or be bounced around from home to home. So who am I to speak up? Who am I to try to offer tools to young people who have been through such tremendous hardship and trauma? That voice is the obstacle.
The voice I try to listen to more often is the voice of the young man or young woman coming out of the system. I listen to what they need, what they’ve experienced, what they’ve learned. Simply by being a teachable witness, we can earn the right to speak and lead even if we’ve never experienced their specific hardships. We as human beings are all marked by trials, some worse than others. But if people see their “lesser” wounds as a hindrance to helping those with deeper wounds, where would this world be?
Please tell us about Seen And Heard.
Seen and Heard’s mission is to develop professional character in older youth in foster care through performing arts training. This population of 16-21 years old are entering adulthood and transitioning out of the foster care system, oftentimes without the tools to retain employment or complete their education. This is in part due to multiple changes in schools and homes that actually re-enforce detachment and apathy. These are young men and women who have had to adapt to multiple changes, at a young age, often against their will. It’s only natural that many of them develop maladaptive behaviors that served them in times of radical change, but no longer serve them in their workplaces.
There are many wonderful organizations that assist transitional age youth with resume building, financial literacy and even interview training, but very few that attend to the emotional and behavioral issues these youth face. We feel that performing arts has the capacity to transform and propel individuals forward. By creating small co-horts that journey though training together, they develop a system of support within each other, thereby becoming their own advocates and supporters. This is critical because historically, many youth involved in systems don’t develop this kind of fellowship themselves, and are often at the mercy of a social worker or attorney for support.
I am proud of the way Seen and Heard attends to a smaller number of youth and takes them through a longer program of self-discovery and empowerment. We are not about the numbers. These kids have literally been given a case number and shuffled through courtrooms, schools and homes. They deserve our personal attention and time. By going slow and staying small, we create a contrast to “mass system” solutions. Ultimately, it’s about youth being seen and heard.
If you had to go back in time and start over, would you have done anything differently?
Honestly, we are just starting out! We are an organization in its infancy. I’m sure we are going to make mistakes along the way, but we are already adapting a posture of humility and seeking the counsel of the youth we serve and other more mature organizations. We desire relationships with other service providers, not only to learn from them but also to diversify the connections our youth have access to. We all need each other if we are going to make any progress at all in the landscape of child welfare.
- This program is free to transitional age foster youth.
- Address: 8334 Lincoln Blvd #320
Los Angeles, CA 90045
- Website: seenandheard.org
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: instagram.com/seenandheardla/
- Facebook: facebook.com/seenandheardla/
- Twitter: twitter.com/seenandheardla/
Lynnae Maki, Photographer