Bregetta Wilson is the first to admit that she hasn’t always made the right choices. She’s been through a lot in her quest to find solace for
Today, Bregetta isn’t asking anyone for pity. But she does want something. She wants to be a voice for those in the foster care system who have no voice, and she wants to see changes in the foster care system.
A product of Milwaukee and Chicago’s foster care systems, Bregetta has found her calling and she’s passionate about it — advocating for youth in foster care.
Wilson had plenty of opportunities to indulge in her passion during the 2005 summer. She was one of ten young people selected nationwide to receive a three-month internship to become foster care facilitators at conferences in at least six states, including Colorado, New Mexico, Virginia, and Florida. The 21-year-old single mom was selected by the, a national network for youth in foster care, to take part in the program.
Beginning on June 1, Bregetta and the other young people — all 18 to 23 — made their home base in Seaside, Oregon. Immediately they received ten days of intensive training to become speakers and facilitators at conferences, then they hit the road. They traveled to foster care conferences across the nation, advocating and speaking out about issues related to the foster care system. They helped youth aging out of foster care understand the challenges that lie ahead, and they met with foster care providers and legislators to give a face and a voice to youth in foster care.
In addition to participating in the FosterClub All-Star Program, Bregetta already does a good share of advocating. As a member of the State of Wisconsin’s Youth Advisory Committee, she frequently meets with foster care providers such as Lutheran Social Services. In 2004, she traveled to Chevy Chase, Maryland to speak at a conference called “Uniting the Voices of Foster Care,” and she recently spoke to a group of foster care agencies, providers, and social worker supervisors at a conference in Wisconsin Rapids called, “Strategies to Enhance Wisconsin’s Foster Care System.”
“If I could change one thing in the foster care system,” says Bregetta, “it would be to have children more involved in the decisions made about their lives. While I understand that some children are too young to speak for themselves, maybe they have a trusted friend or relative who can speak for them.”
Bregetta credits her 3-year-old daughter, Asyria, with being the catalyst for turning her life around.
“I realized that I was responsible for another human being,” she says. “I want to make sure that my daughter grows up with a nurturing and loving family. I had to make something of my life for my daughter’s sake.”
And, that’s exactly what she’s doing. Wilson is in her second semester at Bryant & Stratton College, where she’s studying to become an administrative assistant. She’s also considering earning her bachelor’s degree.
“I want to go to college, but I’m a little afraid,” says Bregetta. “I never thought I’d get this far, and attending a four-year college is huge.”
However, Bregetta has a secret weapon: The support and encouragement from staff and co-workers at Lad Lake’s Independent Living Program.
She also credits Lad Lake for helping turn her life around. At 17-1/2 years old, as she was aging out of foster care, the State of Wisconsin’s Bureau of Child Welfare referred her to Lad Lake. Working with Karie Brophy, Independent Living Coordinator, Bregetta received help with things like housing, childcare, and school. They also gave her a job. Since last August she has worked part-time at Lad Lake as an Outreach Assistant. As a full-time student, Bregetta will continue to receive support from Lad Lake until she is 23 years old.
Confident and with a quick smile, Bregetta rattles off the names of top legislators and individuals who run the State of Wisconsin’s Bureau of Child Welfare – as quickly as most people her age would recollect the latest hip-hop or rap songs.
“I go to all these conferences and speak to people about the foster care system, and I watch as they have their neatly prepared notes in fancy binders,” says Bregetta. “ I don’t prepare written remarks. I have no notes. I’ve lived the life that I’m trying to change for others, so I just speak from the heart.
“I used to wonder why my life was so terrible, and why I had to go through all that I did,” she says. “Now, I understand. It was worth it. If I had to a chance to do my life over, I’d wish for the same life because this life has equipped me to do what I’m doing. I’m grateful for the opportunities I’ve been given to stand up and speak out about the changes that need to take place in the foster care system.
“As a child my family was evicted so many times that I lost count. We’ve sat in the dark because we didn’t have electricity. And, I know what it feels like to be hungry and not have anything in the house to eat. It was rough, but I survived.”
Bregetta has survived by turning lemons into lemonade, and because of her, others’ thirst for changes in the foster care system will surely be quenched.