Pay it Forward icon 1Pay It Forward
Ryan Tobiasson


While working in advocacy, I have found that many organizations stipend youth and young adults for their voice, life experiences and opinions. This is an amazing practice designed to show that us as that the life experiences we bring to the table are valued. I really appreciate being recognized in this manner. I have a small suggestion for improvement that has the potential to make a huge positive impact on our lives and how we interact with the organizations asking for our stories.

 

I have been asked to spill my guts and share traumatic events that have happened in my life for “data collection” or “statistics.” My biological family is awful, and that is embarrassing enough. This makes me very vulnerable when I share the intimate details of my experiences. In addition, anyone I tell my stories to can label me or treat me differently from people who don’t have the same experiences as me, or who have not shared them with others. This is a risk I am willing to take if it helps improve the homelessness and foster care systems for those that follow in my footsteps.

Many times, I am expected to share my story for a $20 gift card to Target. How are my hardships and experience worth a gift card that may not work, charges me to use it, or comes weeks after I spill my guts? We are worth more than what feels like pity money. We want our stories to promote change for others AND for ourselves. This isn’t to say I’m not thankful for the gift cards. I really am, and I use them. I would just like something a bit more tangible.

Many times, I am expected to
share my story for a $20 gift card
to Target. How are my hardships
and experience worth a gift card
that may not  work, charges me
to use it, or comes
weeks after I spill my guts?

A simple solution to this would be to compensate us in something we can use. Can we have a choice in how we get paid? Perhaps we could have more of a choice between cards and a check? For those of us who want checks, we can put money away, open a savings account, and feel like a real person with REAL money. This option allows us to practice money management and to keep track of bills, like other young people. Developing these skills is one of the foundational skills we need to succeed in our society as adults. Having the experience of homelessness and/or foster care already strips us of so many choices.

For instance, we do not get to choose where we live. We frequently end up in the homes of gracious strangers, whose values, needs and interests may not align with ours. We sometimes have to give many things up in order to have the safety of a “home.” Any option that reinstates choice for youth in care would be preferable. All we are asking is the option to get paid in the manner that suits us best. We’ve had so many choices taken away, and we aren’t given the same preparation for adulthood as “normal” young people are. Couldn’t the organizations who claim to value us and our stories, show us?

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