After 18 years, Jamie Lee Evans recently left her job as director of the Youth Offering Unique Tangible Help Training Project (YTP) at youth-led advocacy organization California Youth Connection (CYC) to embark on the next phase of her journey: Relocating to New Zealand.
From there, Evans will continue to pursue her passion to bring the perspectives of young people in foster care to communities the world over through Foster Youth Museum (FYM), a traveling exhibit that Evans created in 2006 with the help of current and former foster youth.
On the eve of her departure, Evans reflected on her time spent working at CYC and the evolution of FYM.
Working with numerous young people who have experienced foster care during her 18 years at CYC has been “an honor and a joy,” said Evans. “Creating programs and getting to work with young people is exciting to me, I am good at connecting people and telling stories.”
A collaboration between youth, child welfare professionals and youth-serving organizations, YTP empowers young people ages 16 to 24 who have experienced foster care to develop and deliver trainings for professionals who support transition age youth. YTP is unique in that it is the first large scale child welfare training program developed and run by current and former foster youth.
As Evans talked about her time at the helm of YTP, she emphasized the importance of communities in empowering foster youths.
“In my perspective, doing leadership development is building community,” Evans said. She sees as her biggest accomplishment “the hundreds of young people that I am related to in community.”
Evans still keeps in touch with many of the youth she met during her time at CYC. She knows from her own experience in foster care the impact that being in a community can have on youth.
“I think it feels safe for foster youth to get the chance to work with an older former foster youth,” she noted. “The safety comes from knowing that I came from some of the same places as them.”
Evans said she feels very proud that through her work with YTP, she has been able to co-create successful programs and communities with youth who have experienced foster care. In those programs there is as little hierarchy as possible and every person has an important role to play.
“‘I’m not better than you, I’m not the boss or the queen,’” Evans described saying to the young people in YTP. “So claim your place. You have ideas. You have analysis. You are not the leaders of tomorrow, you are leaders now.”
Over the past 18 years, more than 140 youth have shared those good ideas and analyses in YTP trainings for more than 7,500 child welfare professionals.
Asked to comment on Evans’s impact, Haydée Cuza, executive director of CYC, said:
“Jamie’s work with CYC, first through YTP preparing young people to train child welfare professionals and facilitate peer-to-peer trainings and conferences, and then with her contributions of Foster Youth Museum and supervising the training team, has contributed to the culture of high expectations and big love that is felt throughout the organization.”
Evans now heads to New Zealand, where she moved for love. In New Zealand, she plans to make a home with her partner and focus on expanding Foster Youth Museum throughout California, nationally and internationally .Her influence in the Bay Area foster care realm will continue with the Foster Youth Museum, for which she now serves as executive director. A collection of exhibits that tell the story of foster care from youths’ perspectives, FYM consists of artifacts, art, photography and digital media donated by people who have experienced foster care.
The museum has already launched several successful public shows in various locations, including galleries, cathedrals and museums in Oakland, Santa Cruz and San Francisco. In partnership with San Francisco-based Ray Bussolari, the museum curator, Evans will work full-time to manage the museum from her new home in New Zealand, with the goal of eventually exhibiting in other states and countries.
If FYM continues to grow as planned, Evans plans to move back to America so she can have more local hands-on involvement with the museum.
Foster Youth Museum is currently working on a new exhibition called “Chosen” and is co-creating Chosen Family commitment ceremonies to be held at some of the exhibitions. The ceremonies “are about saying ‘I promise that I want to be your chosen family,’” Evans said.
Ben Wiley, 19, is an incoming freshman communication major at Seattle University from Alameda, Calif.