Often, youth and their families know best what they need and how to make services work for them, which makes it important for legislators to hear from youth when drafting policy that impacts them. That’s why TNOYS hosts Youth in Action Capitol Day during each Texas legislative session. The timing couldn’t have been better this year, as our Youth in Action Capitol Day event fell in the midst of some of the most important hearings on foster care funding and reform.
More than 350 youth from across Texas who have been part of the foster care system, are experiencing homelessness or are otherwise at risk traveled to Austin on Feb. 3 for Youth in Action Capitol Day to learn more about the policymaking process and to make their voices heard.
Youth Share Their Stories and Concerns
The day kicked off in the Capitol Auditorium with remarks by Natalia Hazelwood, who grew up in the foster care system and inspired the audience with her story and her encouragement to remember that: “We are not numbers, we are names. Our stories matter.” TNOYS’ Executive Director Christine Gendron also shared TNOYS’ legislative agenda and the issues that our organization is advocating for during the current Texas Legislative Session, including increased funding for foster care, prevention and early intervention programs, and services for youth experiencing homelessness.
Then, the young people who had traveled from across the state to attend Capitol Day took the stage to share their views on the issues that matter to them. That included the Houston Youth Police Academy speaking about teen dating violence and the need to raise awareness about some of the policy protections that exist for victims, the Fifth Ward Enrichment Program speaking about the need to stomp out obesity and tackle food deserts in their community, and youth from DFPS Region 4 speaking about the importance of helping foster care youth make a healthy transition to adulthood. Those were just a few of the impressive groups that the audience heard from.
Rallying for Youth Voice
After the morning’s legislative showcase, the hundreds of youth participants and their adult chaperones headed out to the South steps of the Capitol building for a lively rally to show the power and importance of youth voice. The crowd proudly displayed the signs they had created for the event as they heard about the importance of advocacy from experienced speakers including Isa Arizola, an Austin Opportunity Youth Collaborative Ambassador, and Will Francis, Government Relations Director for the National Association of Social Workers’ Texas Chapter.
Face Time with Legislators
After the rally, the crowd headed back inside to the Legislative Conference Center (LCC) to refuel with a quick pizza lunch and get ready for an afternoon of direct advocacy with state policymakers. Many of the groups spread out across the Capitol for pre-scheduled meetings at their senators’ and representatives’ offices, while others set up visual displays about their policy concerns for legislative staffers to come by and view in the LCC. The group was fortunate to have visits with State Senator Carlos Uresti and other legislative staffers, who fielded questions from the youth about issues currently being debated by the Legislature.
We are very grateful to all of the young people and their chaperones who made the trip to the Capitol for Youth in Action Capitol Day, to the speakers and legislators who met with the participants, and to World Youth Foundation’s Service Works program for sponsoring the event and making it all possible. We also owe a huge thank you to our MCs, Gus and Rashaad, former foster care youth and Cipher Austin members, who kept the crowd inspired and engaged throughout our the day with their upbeat energy and spoken word performances.
We hope the event was informative for both the young people and the government leaders involved, and we look forward to hosting the event again during the next legislative session. In the meantime, take a look at the youth advocacy toolkit the participants used to prepare for Capitol Day, and use it to keep advocating for what you believe in!