Why did you choose to tackle foster care?
I grew up in the foster care system — I was in there at 11 months old. By the age of nine, I was adopted. But it was an abusive and unhealthy situation. By the time I was 13, I was couch surfing.
When I reentered foster care at 15, I was being prepared to “age out”. To be ready for life after high school — on my own. But I thought about my siblings and friends who weren’t being prepared in the same way, and that bothered me.
There’s this thought that the government makes this promise they’ll provide you with a safe and better life. But that’s just not the case sometimes. For some, foster care is rough. It’s not for everyone.
I was enticed by the thought of empowering young people to be at the center of their own lives. By identifying the goals, action steps, and building their own personal advisory board so they can become who they’re really meant to be.
What made you believe technology would help toward solving this problem?
I began to realize technology empowers people. It gives them the information they need to respond to certain situations. It gives them access to programs that allow them to really start taking control of their lives. And for those who don’t have a voice, technology gives them a platform for them to speak from.
Technology lets us know where we’re headed. But in some ways, technology reminds us we’re already here.
And so, through that, we made sure the Think of Us platform is the first AI, machine-learning hope for navigating the foster care system.
Who is your platform for?
First, it’s for young people in the foster care system. They can use it to begin building out what life will look like in their 20s. Everybody asks, “What are you going to be when you grow up?” For somebody who is aging out of foster care, answering that question at 18 requires getting really concrete really fast.
So at 20, you want to be in college, making enough money to support yourself in a two-bedroom apartment — with a car. Or you want to be in a studio, you don’t need a car, and you just need X, Y, and Z.
If it’s not that concrete, it’s going to be difficult for somebody that age. But that’s where the platform helps. You get in, you build yourself a personal advisory board to support you as you work toward your goals and milestones. The board can be teachers, coaches, family members, and whoever can help keep you on track.
Second, it’s for social workers and foster care staff who work with these young people. It’s essentially a client portal where the young person can check in with these critical team members to check on milestones and requests and find answers to their questions.
How does Think of Us help users navigate some heavier personal issues?
When we think about the content we present to young people, there are two buckets to think of. The first bucket asks: “What do normal adolescents and emerging adults require?” In other words, what are the all the topics that need to be discussed for this group of people?
Then there’s this other bucket: “How do we help people navigate specific systems that they find themselves in?” This content will range from managing your dollars to sex education to what individual rights look like.
What did you want to be when you grow up?
I always envisioned myself being a policy advocate — because I’m very much a policy and practice nerd. And technology has greatly influenced how I can do this effectively.