The National Foster Youth Institute has chosen one of its own to assume the organization’s helm. The board of the 6-year-old nonprofit announced Monday that Rebecca Louve Yao, herself a former foster youth, will become executive director on Jan. 21.
NFYI is a Los Angeles-based national advocacy organization that aims to transform the child welfare system and improve outcomes for foster youth. It was founded in 2014 by U.S. Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), who remains on the NFYI board.
Louve Yao will lead the institute’s efforts to expand its network of foster youth, alumni of foster care, foster, adoptive and birth parents, and child advocates into every congressional district in the country.
Louve Yao will also oversee the institute’s commitment to putting the voices of foster youth and families front and center. Through online and in-person training on community organizing, NFYI is developing a corps of leaders with lived experience in foster care and giving them the tools and experience to succeed in life.
NFYI was established with support from Casey Family Programs and the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.
During the coronavirus pandemic, a chief goal in the next few months is making sure foster youth and alumni are protected from both the health and economic consequences.
“This pandemic has revealed how devastating the inequities and lack of a support system are for far too many. But we’ve also seen and worked with many young adults who are eager to speak up and advocate effectively for themselves and others,” said Conway Collis, chair of the board of directors, in a statement. “Since the start of the pandemic, NFYI has pivoted to organizing in the virtual space. Rebecca has been instrumental in bringing together young people from across the country to ensure that stimulus packages, relief and healthcare legislation are crafted with foster youth in mind. Rebecca’s experience and demonstrated commitment to this work will allow NFYI to have an even greater impact in these critical coming months and years.”
Louve Yao’s elevation to executive director capped a record of steadily increasing responsibility at the organization. She joined the institute in 2018 as the director of national policy and organizing. In April, she was promoted to director of development.
No one, Louve Yao said, knows about the flaws in the child welfare system better than former foster youth, echoing a theme at the heart of reform efforts from coast to coast.
“They are the experts whose voices should be at the center of policy reform,” she said in a statement. “I joined NFYI because I wanted to work with an organization that not only believes in the power and promise of foster youth’s voices, but does the work to guarantee that they have a seat at the table where policies are created and decisions are made.”
Before joining the institute, Louve Yao worked as a mental health professional and senior strategist in leadership development. She also has experience as a grassroots organizer, as well as strategic planning, marketing and outreach, civic engagement and pushing legislative change.
She was a social worker in Solano County, California, from 2016 to 2018 and interned with the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute in Washington, D.C., in 2006. She earned her master’s degree in social welfare from the University of California Berkeley.