From Addie to You.
We all have a story that tells of our past, our present, and what we hope for our future. And so it is with my story. When asked why I volunteer, what motivates me to get involved, or why I am so passionate about kindness, equity, and inclusion, I am continually reminded of the saying, “I am not the same having seen the sun, the moon, and the stars from the other side of the world.”
I am not the same having lived as a foster child and ward of the state, or having led global teams for Fortune 50 companies, or conducted research on cancer care in sub-Saharan Africa. Nor am I the same after serving on global health and humanitarian projects in Africa, Central and South America or coming alongside vulnerable and underserved communities affected by national disasters in Florida and Texas. All of these experiences have shaped how I see the world and how I relate to others.
I give what I am able to and strive to encourage and offer kindness to all, not because I have had so much and my life has been ‘easy’, but because I know very personally what it can be like to have nothing, to be vulnerable, to feel abandoned, neglected, and discouraged from pursuing my dreams. I know how much it can mean to receive a small act of kindness. I know how powerful it can be to be given a chance to learn and an opportunity to grow, to have someone believe in me and tell me about the potential they see in me, and even more, have them help me to see that potential in myself. I act out of appreciation and gratitude for how much has been offered to me – from a kind word and smile to unconditional friendship to significant financial support that enables me to pursue my dreams.
As a teenager, as I questioned my own existence and reason for living, I decided that if I am going to live, I want my life to bring more goodness into the world. I had already experienced how difficult and ‘unfair’ life can be. And the reality is, life is rarely ‘easy’ for anyone. Even those with large amounts of material wealth and ‘security’ must face their own vulnerability at some point when they become sick or when a loved one dies. Many among us who are living ‘the good life’ struggle to find meaning in their lives beyond the appearance of ‘having it all’. For me, that meaning comes from my connection to our broader community of humanity; from giving what I can, when I can – even if it is only a smile and kind word of encouragement. As Mother Teresa famously said, “We can do no great acts, only small acts with great love.”
I share my story, not to glorify myself or anything I have done, but to offer hope, inspiration, and a glimpse of what life can be when we hold fast to our dreams and are determined to write our own stories and help others who are writing theirs.
My life is a symbol of what is possible when people help you believe in the dream of your own life. I was able to break free from the exceedingly low expectations and excessively high barriers of the foster care system only because of the acts of kindness and generosity of those around me. So next time you meet a foster child or another person who is struggling, don’t tell them what they can’t do, tell them what they can do. Don’t tell them about the disadvantages from being neglected, abused, and abandoned…we know these much better than anyone else ever could… tell them about the potential you see in them, about their unique talents and strengths. Tell them you will stand with them and walk beside them because you think they are worth it. Tell them about who you see that they can be when they are loved, valued, and included.
And for all of you current or former foster children or those of you who may feel unworthy, isolated, and discouraged, if I can tell you one thing, it is this – Always remember: you have the ability to achieve whatever goals you set for yourself. Know that you have the strength to overcome whatever obstacles or barriers may present themselves. Be resourceful, resilient, and tenacious. If at first you don’t succeed, try again -because you and your dreams are worth it. Be true to yourself. Find your voice. Lift your voice. Hold your head upright. Be proud of who you are. Never let anyone tell you that you cannot create the life of your dreams.