Tuesday, September 2, 2014

On the Front Lines of Capitol Hill



A few months ago Amnoni Myers ’14 stood before her classmates, friends and family for her college graduation. Just a few weeks later, she took the stage for another significant moment, but before a rather different audience: Congress.

Myers was one of 12 students from across the country to spend the summer on Capitol Hill in the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute's Foster Youth Internship program. Drawing upon their experiences as former or current foster youth, the interns worked alongside members of Congress to influence policies. Myers worked in the office of Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, focusing on child welfare issues.

 “It was an opportunity to work alongside Congress and to be on the front lines,” Myers said. “Being in the foster care system I wasn't always able to see that the state or government was working for me. But now to be on the other end, knowing that there are senators and representatives fighting for these issues, has been important to see. In a way, it's been a healing process.”

When she was born, Myers became a ward of the state. Since her parents were unable to provide for her, she became especially concerned with advocating for the needs of children and at-risk populations.

“As I reflect back on my time in the foster care system I think about how I could have easily been another statistic,” she said. “My time in care was not the most positive, but I am now able to see how those experiences are shaping my path. This gives me passion to want to help those who are experiencing some of the similar things I have.”

But Myers did not just observe from the sidelines. The internship allowed participants to hone in on an issue impacting children in foster care, that they want to see changed in the system, by writing up a policy report. At the end of the summer, the interns presented their reports to Congress in a briefing session. According to the Congressional Coalition on Adoption, past years' reports have generated both local and national attention to the critical issues facing over 400,000 children currently in the United States foster care system.

In her report, Myers advocates for implementing a state-standardized trauma-informed childcare curriculum for foster parents. She says that foster parents, without realizing it, sometimes perpetuate trauma from the youth's past.

“There are currently no federal guidelines for training for foster parents,” Myers said. “Nine out of ten foster youth have experienced traumatic circumstances, so foster parents need to know how to properly care for these children. My project is a push for Congress to recognize the importance of equipping the parents.”

Through the internship, Myers connected with some notable figures, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Trinity Forum president Cherie Harder, a Gordon trustee. But the most remarkable encounter, Myers said, was with Victoria Rowell, author of The Women Who Raised Me.

“I met her at luncheon and she gave me her card, and I gasped when I read it,” Myers said. “On the card she listed a book that my mentor urged me to read during a difficult time in my life. I was flabbergasted. I never thought I'd meet the author.”

Without hesitation, she credits Gordon with the preparatory education in her majors, sociology and social work. Her Gordon years also led to many resources. When she attended the 2012 Urbana conference on the urging of a mentor, Laurie Truschel (now the director of the College’s Student Discovery Initiative), another of Myers’ mentors, Ivette Diaz, connected her with the programs that made this summer’s internship possible.

“Gordon provided the experience of being able to grow intellectually and personally,” she said. “It prepared me for graduating and being on Capitol Hill. I feel adequately prepared and confident. Even in secular spaces you don't have to compromise your faith or values. That's been really important to know.”

Myers took advantage of her time at Gordon, serving as a resident advisor, an orientation leader and a Gordon in Lynn intern and leader. She was a Gordon delegate to the 2013 National Conference for College Student Leaders in D.C., and her college experience took her as far as Swaziland and South Africa. Her final semester was spent in San Francisco through the Westmont Urban Studies program  for her social work practicum.

Her internship immersed Myers in the world of Washington D.C., meeting politicians and visiting the FBI Headquarters—and she recently became the proud owner of boating license. Every morning, the walk to Capitol Hill was surreal, she says. The nation’s capital was a significant location for a crucial point in Myers' life, as she sought insight to determine career options for the future.

“Something I've been trying to figure out is if I want to work on a micro level with individuals, or on a macro level working on policy issues,” she said. “It's given me a good instruction for what I'd be doing if I wanted to come back. It's a really good starting place.”

Photo courtesy CCA: Amnoni Myers on Capitol Hill.




Mary Hierholzer ’16 was a summer intern. She is a history major and Editor-in-Chief of the Tartan. Mary hopes to study history and political science in graduate school, and to pursue a career in writing for intellectual publications. In the rare moments when she is not writing or conducting an interview, she enjoys good conversations, drinking coffee, exploring great literature, admiring art and discovering music.

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