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Emancipated Youth Advocates for Others

by Lester Holmes, HHS Communications Officer

Chris Anderson holding an awardChris Anderson, a resilient 19-year-old who has weathered numerous storms in his young life, is now using his experiences to provide support and guidance for those in need within our community.

Having recently gained emancipation from the Cuyahoga County Division of Children and Family Services (DCFS) Foster Care Program, Chris is determined to effect positive change for youth who are now experiencing many similar adversities.

"I want to make someone’s unfortunate life better,” said Anderson who persevered through multiple foster home placements and group homes to emerge as a childcare advocate and youth homeless prevention advocate at A Place 4 Me and a Jim Casey Fellow at the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Youth Leadership Institute.

While many youths in Anderson’s position would relish the newfound freedoms of adulthood, Anderson is using his independence to make a difference and to honor the sacrifices made for him.

Through the Storm:

Anderson’s early childhood was filled with family. He watched his mother make the commitments and sacrifices of any loving parent —go to work, prepare meals, play with him and his siblings, and provide the nurturing and stable home environment all children deserve.

Unbeknownst to Anderson, his mother was silently battling significant health issues that eventually led to her untimely death. With Anderson’s mother no longer able to take care of the family, Anderson became a part of the foster care system. As he moved through the foster care system, feelings of anger and resentment grew and caused him to exhibit some troubling behaviors.

It was at that moment that Anderson realized he wanted to be the person his mother believed he could become.

“It was really hard during my earlier teenage years, but would my mother be happy with my decisions,” said Anderson who used the memory of his mother to change his life.

“I try to make my mother proud with everything I do.”

A Determined Leader:

In addition to his community work, Anderson graduated from Frederick Douglass high school this past spring. He also secured his own apartment, before emancipation.

Kayla Schoonover, Anderson’s case worker at DCFS, said Anderson is determined to be a success and to get what he wants in life.

“(Anderson) is very goal oriented. He’s very determined to complete the goals he has for himself and will let nothing get in his way.”

Christie Sozio, the Assistant Director of A Place 4 Me noticed Anderson’s leadership ability after his placement into the group home in 2021.

“He immediately demonstrated leadership skills and commitment to helping others, rallying his housemates also enrolled in the virtual class to join on time and to participate throughout the class sessions,” said Sozio. During his time at the group home, Chris earned a position on the Youth Action Board and continues to be a well-respected youth leader within the program.

“Chris dedicates significant time to improving the foster care system and other systems,” said Sozio.

As for his future goals, Anderson wants to continue his advocacy for youth, be a homeowner, a business owner as well as the founder of his own non-profit organization. He also wants to become a foster parent.

“I know how it is to not have parents but to want family figures and to not actually get one,” said Anderson who encourages current foster parents to be open, patient and understanding with their foster children who are experiencing difficulties.

“In order to make rainbows, there has to be a storm.”