When Julia Schaffer was just 3 years old, she was placed into foster care through Community Based Care of Central Florida because of abuse in the home. She was adopted at age 9 in Indiana and immediately moved to a new life in St. Cloud — but the adoption was terminated four years later because of sexual abuse.
Now 21 and living in MetroWest, Schaffer is concentrating her energies on being the voice of today’s children in foster care. For her work, she was named the Orlando 2015 Youth Advocate of the Year by Florida’s Children First.
“I have always wanted to become involved in advocating,” Schaffer said. “Growing up in foster care I felt like I did not have a voice. Therefore, I have been self-motivated to be a voice for all those that have been silenced.
“I have been through many ups and downs in life, but I am most thankful for winning foster youth advocate of 2015,” she said. “I am appreciative that I have been given so many opportunities to travel and speak in representation of former, current and future foster youth. I aspire to continue to take advantage of any opportunities that come my way and impact the many lives I encounter.”
Schaffer is a senior at Florida State University and will graduate April 30 with a Bachelor of Science in criminal justice with a minor in sociology. But she doesn’t plan on stopping there with her education. In the fall, she hopes to continue her studies with the goal of obtaining one master’s degree in business management with a minor in finance and another in nonprofit management.
“I want to eventually start a business that focuses on crossover youth that are juvenile delinquents and foster youth,” she said. “I want to help them make a change, give them a second chance. I plan to focus on leadership, professionalism, rehabilitation, building resumes, job application, volunteering and working on self-goals.”
Until then, she has plenty of work to do. She is the 2015-16 Public Ally of Central Florida and helps recruit foster families as a foster parent recruitment coordinator. Public Allies is a program of Community Based Care of Central Florida that focuses on the improvement of the educational outcomes for children in the foster care system and young adults transitioning to adulthood.
She serves as president of the Youth Advisory Board in Osceola County, where she encourages her peers through education and optimism; she is a member of Florida Youth SHINE, a youth-run, peer-driven organization that empowers current and former foster youth to become leaders and advocates within their communities; and she was a member of Foster Club in 2014-15.
Schaffer has embraced her childhood experiences and moved on.
“I am in contact with my biological family now that I am an adult,” Schaffer said. “I forgive my mother for her choices, and I am thankful for who I have become in spite of my circumstances. I have been blessed to have some amazing role models in my life: my sister, Kayla Schaffer; my mentor, Michelle Carlton; Keri Flynn; and Jennifer Mezquita.”
Contact Amy Quesinberry Rhode at [email protected].