Today the White House is honoring 12 “Champions of Change,” including two LGBT honorees. At the event, their stories will be told as well as comments given by the U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and the Deputy Assistant to the President for Urban Affairs, Justice and Opportunity Roy L. Austin, Jr.
“The experience of foster care is definitely a roller coaster but it has given me the ability to practice resiliency,” said Sixto Cancel, 23, one of the honorees. Since the age of 11 months old, he was in and out of the foster care system and is working to better the outcome for others who started out life like him. “Nonprofits and government were my parents. They were the ones who raised me, they are the ones who are responsible for that development.”
Cancel is in his fifth year at Virginia Commonwealth University and is working on his start up, Think of Us. The nonprofit is a program that reaches out to those in child welfare, helping them access resources through different stages in their life and to also take online courses. He also hopes to collect data to learn more about vulnerable populations and how they can be better served. Helping others started in high school, when he helped provide SAT and remedial education programming for foster kids through Stellar Works.
Not only has he busied himself with school and a nonprofit, he has also participated in a number of other nonprofits. He has sat on the board of the National Foster Care and Alumni Policy Council, American Institutes for Research LGBTQQA Advisory Board, and North American Council on Adoptable Children. Cancel is also a young adult consultant with the Center for State Capacity’s Children’s Bureau.
Sokhom Mao is also being honored by the White House for his leadership in higher education and foster care reform. A graduate of San Francisco State University, he studied criminal justice and was a founder of the Guardian Scholars Program to help current and foster youth in higher education. Mao is currently the juvenile justice commissioner for Alameda County and a public education specialist for the California Social Work Education Center at the UC Berkeley. He was also appointed to the National Council on Crime and Delinquency’s Alameda County LGBTQ Task Force. With his help, California passed Assembly Bill 12, which gives foster children access to higher education, employment, and stable housing until they are 21.
“It feels humbling to be honored by the White House, but at the same time I cannot say how much work there is to be done,” Cancel said. “We need to have a way where young people are allowed to go from where they are at to what they envision themselves to be or a systematic way of moving up. Right now, what we have is a systematic way of a pipeline from foster care to the justice system, to other government services… the pipeline is straight to the grave.”