First Place For Youth
May 31, 2023
Meet Jasmine, a My First Place™ participant and our incredible keynote youth speaker at our 25th Anniversary Celebration! In her speech below, Jasmine opened up about the challenges of aging out of foster care without a support network, the invaluable life lessons she’s learned, and how First Place has helped her accomplish milestones that once seemed unattainable.
Good evening, everyone, and thank you for your incredible generosity.
Tonight, we gather here in celebration of an incredible milestone: the 25th anniversary of First Place for Youth. It is an honor to stand before you today as a living testament to the profound impact this organization has on young lives. My name is Jasmine, and I am here to share my gratitude for First Place and shed light on why investing in this organization is a decision that changes lives.
When I was informed that I would be given the opportunity to address this distinguished audience, my heart swelled with excitement. You see, my journey with First Place mirrors the diverse and unpredictable paths that many young people face. Each of us has a unique story, and tonight, I want to share a glimpse of mine.
My journey with First Place began in a less-than-ideal state. At the age of 18, I found myself without parents, without the guidance of a support system, and without any structures to manage my day-to-day choices. For the first time in my life, I was free from the constraints of adults telling me what I couldn’t do. I reveled in newfound freedom—I played my music as loud as I wanted, welcomed as many guests as I pleased, and enjoyed overnight stays. These simple liberties that most young adults take for granted were luxuries foreign to youth in foster care. We grow accustomed to hearing “no” every day, shaping our perception of what’s possible. But when I turned 18, I granted myself the power to say “yes”—to everything. And oh, did I embrace it.
I hosted parties in my home, despite not being allowed to do so. I allowed my boyfriend to stay overnight, breaking the rules yet again. While I had a job, I lacked the necessary skills to manage my home or navigate my newfound lifestyle. Eventually, the consequences of my choices caught up with me, spiraling me down a dark and daunting path. At 18, none of us fully comprehend the lasting impact our decisions will have on our future. For foster youth like myself, the price we pay for those decisions is higher, as we lack a soft place to land when we stumble.
A series of unfortunate events led to my termination from the program just before my 19th birthday. Without family to rely on, without a foster home to return to, and without the housing provided by First Place for Youth, I found myself couch surfing and wandering the streets. The statistics are sobering—nearly half of teen girls in foster care become pregnant by age 19, compared to 27% of their non-foster care counterparts. Furthermore, 71% of women who have been in foster care become pregnant by the age of 21, compared to 34% of the general population. I became a statistic—a young, single mother, as my partner was incarcerated during my pregnancy. Combining my experience as a former foster youth, being a Black woman navigating the inner city, and the challenges that lay before me, it felt like the odds were insurmountable.
However, hope flickered back into my life when I made a pivotal call at the age of 22—one that would change the trajectory of my life. Little did I know that First Place for Youth had a second chance policy. Nervousness overwhelmed me as I dialed the number.
I feared humiliation.
I feared rejection.
I feared the unknown.
I was certain the circumstances of my departure would have me on a “do not accept back…ever” list.
But as the saying goes, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” So, I mustered the courage to take that leap of faith, and to my surprise, First Place for Youth welcomed me and my daughter back with open arms.
With their support, I was able to secure my very own apartment—a safe and stable home for my newborn daughter, Farah. Speaking of Farah, she is here tonight, alongside her father and my grandmother, offering their unwavering support. Farah, whose name means “joy and happiness” in Arabic, has brought immeasurable joy, happiness, and peace into my life. She became the driving force behind my determination to make positive changes for our future.
Since rejoining First Place, I have accomplished milestones that once seemed unattainable. I have been able to provide a roof over my daughter’s head, strengthen my resume, and even obtain my driver’s license through driving school. First Place connected me with a program that provided funding for my education. And now, standing before you today, I proudly announce that not only did I complete my program, but I also passed my State Boards on the first attempt, earning my license as a Certified Nursing Assistant.
They say that my smile lights up a room, and I owe that to First Place for Youth. They have provided me with the tools and opportunities to pave a promising path for myself and my daughter. On behalf of all the young individuals who yearn for a safe place to land, I express our heartfelt gratitude to First Place for Youth. Your unwavering commitment to providing that safe space, even when we fail to recognize it initially, is a beacon of hope for countless young lives.
I am living proof that First Place for Youth changes lives. Without this organization, I don’t know where I would be today. But because of First Place, I am able to stand before you as a confident, successful, and proud young woman, mother, and professional.
So to all of you here tonight, I want to say thank you for supporting First Place for Youth. Your generosity, kindness, and compassion are making a real difference in the lives of young people like me. Together, we can continue to make a positive impact on our communities and change the life outcomes for foster youth in our community.
Cheers to 25 years, and to infinity and beyond! Thank you.
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