A drawing charts out a possible future course for a Young Women’s Project participant.
EVI MARIANI

Hundreds of young adults in the foster care system are facing emotional problems, living in poverty and are without adequate means to become independent upon exiting the system. Some of the young women in the system learn to advocate for themselves through Young Women’s Project, even testifying at D.C. council meetings to tell the decision makers about problems they found in the system.

Two years ago, Neek*, 17, and her three younger sisters were taken from their mother’s house by the D.C. government. “They put us in a car and then dropped us in different houses,” she said. While all four of them had the same mother, they had different fathers.

In the beginning, Neek and her next- oldest sister were in a group home, which was later shut down due to uncleanliness. She said people were stealing her belongings, so she moved. Later, her sister got into trouble in a D.C. group home and was moved to Virginia. The two younger sisters were both placed in a foster home in Maryland, but were separated on the weekends to stay with their own respective fathers. Neek now stays with her youngest sister’s father, whom she also calls father. Since 2010, she has moved four times.

They now live in different places. Neek said that at first it was difficult being separated. “You get used to it after awhile,” she said.

Neek said she had not seen her second sister since October of last year. She “kinda” misses her, but she under- stands why they separated them. “No foster home has four open spaces.”

She recently testified in a council meeting to speak against separation, however, suggesting that the government provide a group home for siblings who don’t want to be divided.

Neek said she planned to graduate from high school next year but had to make up classes that she failed last year after having trouble studying because she was irritated by her life situation. “I feel homeless now,” she said. Neek said she used to like school, but “not anymore.”

Nevertheless, she wants to go to college to study English.

Another young woman, Quamesha Lee, 18, has been in and out of the foster care system since she was little. She said she wants to be a hairstylist or a nurse after graduating from high school, which she plans to do next year. Her grandfather raised her, but since he died two years ago, she has stayed with different relatives, sometimes her mother, sometimes her aunt. Her father has never been part of her life. Counting the group homes where she has stayed, she’s moved at least seven times, and consequently she has had problems studying for school.

“When I lived with my grandpa, my grades were good,” she said. “But when I lived with my aunt, my grades failed. And then with my mother, my grades dropped.”

Lee said she is now stable and back on track. She is inspired by the memory of her grandfather.

“Before he passed away he wanted me to graduate or even go to college,” she said.

She also hopes to provide some stability for a younger sister. “I don’t want my little sister to be in the system, like, all her life,” she said.

Living in the system, Lee gets a monthly $50 “recreation” stipend, which she spends on items that many other teens take for granted, like her cellphone. When she turns 21, Lee will be exiting the system. She said the system does not adequately prepare young people for the “real world.”

Young Women’s Project encourages the youth who work with them to draw to describe themselves or their dreams.

Young Women’s Project encourages the youth who work with them to draw to describe
themselves or their dreams.

Youths who work for Young Women’s Proj- ect have these com- puters to finish their projects like writing testimonies for coun- cil meetings. During the school year, YWP can take as many as 15 young people but i n t h e su mmer t h e number can double.

Youths who work for Young Women’s Project have these computers to finish their projects like writing testimonies for council meetings. During the school year, YWP can take as many as 15 young people but in the summer the number can double.