Feature Article on Leticia Aossey - AMP | Achieving Maximum Potential
 

Feature Article on Leticia Aossey

Go big or go home: Leticia Aossey wants to help other foster kids

CEDAR FALLS — By most standards, Leticia Aossey is doing well.

At 21, Aossey is a senior at the University of Northern Iowa and made the Dean’s List. She’s working on a bachelor’s degree in social work, with a minor in communications.

She’s planning ahead, too — there’s commencement in May and an internship. She also applied to the University of Iowa in Iowa City, where she’ll pursue a doctorate in social work. She aims to finish in five years.

She sets her bar high for herself; she has to.

A Cedar Rapids native, Aossey grew up in a series of foster homes throughout Linn County. By the time she was 18, she had been shuttled through 18 foster homes and attended 14 different schools.

“I used education as my outlet,” she says. “It made me forget about my home life. When I got home from school, I’d eat, do my chores, do my homework, go to sleep. I didn’t even hang out with friends on school nights.”

Education was a way for her to take charge of her future.

“Growing up, it was clear that if you don’t have money, you figure out a way to get a scholarship,” Aossey explains. “I didn’t want to get stuck in that town. I knew there was a bigger world out there, and the only way to see it was … through education.”

Her love of learning made her an advocate for kids like herself. When Aossey was in her early teens, she was introduced to a statewide organization called Achieving Maximum Potential.

“AMP has been my biggest support,” she says. “When I was 13 or 14, I was in a bad place in my life. I was lost. I didn’t have anybody to lean on, and I was dealing with terrible caseworkers, terrible homes. AMP became my home.”

The organization has 13 councils throughout Iowa and serves all children in out-of-home placement.

“There’s a lot of bonding with people who understand,” says Aossey. “They have me go and talk about things like college, the advocacy work we do, how kids can get involved — like I did.”

At 14, Aossey became central council representative from Cedar Rapids. AMP provided opportunities for public advocacy and speaking. She attended Foster Youth in Action, a conference hosted in California. The group also hosted State Legislative Days, where she learned to lobby legislators on behalf of Iowa’s children.

One myth is a child is in foster care because she or he did something wrong, she says.

“Some people think it’s the kid’s fault,” she explains. “When people find out I grew up in foster care, they’ll say, ‘Well, what did you do?’ It’s rarely the kid’s fault. There are those occasions, but 90 percent of the time, it’s the parents that are the reason the child gets taken away.”

In Aossey’s case, her parents were teenagers when they had her. They struggled with addiction and other issues. Eventually, they lost parental rights when Aossey was in her early teens.

“It happened around the same time I got into AMP, which saved me,” she recalls.

Moving with regularity, switching schools and changing family dynamics made it tough to develop connections, says Aossey.

Few realize children of color are disproportionately represented in Iowa’s foster care system, she notes. This can cause issues for children in terms of adjusting to new homes and/or schools. (Aossey is of biracial heritage; her father is white and American Indian, and her mother is of Puerto Rican heritage.)

“You become family with some of those homes; they’re constants in my life,” she explains. “I’m the godchild of parents from one of the houses. There were caseworkers I was close to, too — that made a big difference.”

By her late teens, Aossey was able to transition to independent living under a supervision program. She remained in in the foster care system until she turned 21.

“I got to my apartment, and I only had two garbage bags of clothes to my name,” Aossey recalls. “That’s the way it is with most kids in foster care. We can’t afford nice suitcases; we travel with garbage bags.”

AMP was there to help, organizing a drive to furnish the apartment and outfit her kitchen.

Aossey pays this support forward serving as a mentor to children in foster care. She’s been to Washington, D.C., to meet with members of Congress to talk about bills that affect children.

These and other experiences helped her develop and solidify career plans: She wants to become a federal policy writer.

“I want to be commissioner of the Children’s Bureau in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,” she says. “I want to go big or go home.”

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