Thursday, April 27, 2017

May is Foster Care Awareness Month: Here is How You Can Help

Here is How YOU can help

In 1988 with the help of Senator Strom Thurmond, President Ronald Regan issued the first Presidential proclamation that established May as National Foster Care Month. A yearly proclamation from the President recognizes the work of foster families, social workers, community organizations and others that are improving the lives of young people in foster care across the country and encourages all Americans to participate in efforts to serve these children throughout the year.

You already know that in the United States we have nearly 500,000 children in the foster care system. Nearly 24,000 will age out this year with no continued support. You also know that the long term impacts and outcomes of those from the foster care system are almost unfathomable. But you can help. Below is a list of ways to get involved. . . I am asking all my readers to find one way that they can get involved and take a positive action for you in care in the month of May.

I would also love to hear what you did. What was your experience like? Please share your stories with me on the link at the bottom. 


FOSTER or ADOPT - Yes, it's a big time commitment. It is an emotional commitment. It is challenging and can be frustrating. But there are thousands of youth who are looking for caring parents and mentors to help them and have someone believe in them regardless. To learn more about possible opportunities in your area check out: ADOPT US KIDS

SPONSOR - Not ready to make the commitment to foster or adopt a child. How about sponsoring a child and/or a foster family. As with all children, it takes a lot of time and money to provide everything a child needs. Sponsoring a family or a child can help. Contact your local foster or adoption agency for local opportunities.

VOLUNTEER - Whether you have an hour a month, or hours a day, foster children could use your volunteer hours. Whether it is you, or you can put together a group of family and friends. Thousands of organizations need volunteers. Here are a few suggestions, but always check with your local resources for others: 

DONATE - If time is precious for you, and you don't have time in May to volunteer, maybe you would prefer to donate money or items. It is always great when you can donate in your local community. You  may want to check out Charity Navigator or choose a specific family or organization who could use your dollars or gifts. If you just want my recommendations here are several organizations to consider: 

EDUCATE - Many people do not understand the foster care system. They do not see how the outcomes in foster care are impacting other social issues in our country. Take someone to coffee, dinner or other event with the specific intent of sharing information. You can find lots of statistics and information at: Child Trends, Child Welfare.Gov, Or pick up a book, might I recommend Garbage Bag Suitcase, The Body Keeps the Score, Three Little Words, To the End of June, Childhood Disrupted, or even The Language of Flowers or White Oleander.

ADVOCATE - Once you have some knowledge and information, set out to change some minds and some of the outcomes for kids in care. Write a letter to your representatives, which you can find here. Reach out to those on your local commissions. How much do they know about foster care in your community? What are they doing to help resolve the issues? They need to hear from voters to realize how big this issue is.

Remember, if we do not all come together to solve this problem, we will continue to have millions of children who have never known love, safety or stability! 

Shenandoah Chefalo is a former foster youth, and advocate. She is the author of the memoir, Garbage Bag Suitcase, and co-founder of Good Harbor Institute an organization focused on translating evidence based research on trauma into skills that can be used immediately by individuals and organizations. You can learn more about her and her work at or

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Self Help: More Than Just a Good Book

I have written before about how I was a self-help book addict. I read every book I could find, re-reading several of them and even going as far as getting them on audiobook so I could re-listen to them hundreds of times.

I did this because I absolutely believed in their base principles, and, frankly, I needed a constant reminder. I would listen — and would feel good for 10 to 30 minutes afterwards. But, then life would happen; I would forget everything I learned and I would be right back to old habits until the next time I was in my car. This went on for years.

I often felt more depressed the more I listened or tried to read the books. Why wasn’t I able to just do this? How come I wasn’t good enough to implement these ideas?  They weren’t helping me, and I didn’t know what else to do.  I abandoned the ideas and assumed I was doomed for a life of hardship.

Then, I decided to write Garbage Bag Suitcase, and everything changed. I didn’t know how this book would completely flip my world upside down, but while researching for that book, I stumbled on a piece of research (the Adverse Childhood Experience Study) that changed the way I understood my relationship with my mind and body.  That one study lead me to more reading, but not in the self-help section, this time in the science section. Specifically, topics on brain function.

Before I read this study, things happened to me and I felt as though I was an unlucky participant in the happenings. I couldn’t understand how I could “change my luck.” After I read the study, I started to see my life’s journey in a completely different way. What if everything I considered “bad” that had happened to me, happened for a completely positive reason? It was a stretch, and when I told a friend she basically laughed at me.

But I couldn’t escape the thought. Was it possible that my own neglectful childhood had caused me to see only bad things? Slowly, I started to see tiny shifts within my own life. I was rewiring what I considered to be my “trauma brain” but it was tedious.

Then, recently, several disappointing things happened in a row (minor things, really):

1: My book wasn’t chosen for an independent award I was hoping to receive.
2: I submitted the book for a writing/screenwriting competition, and it wasn’t recognized there either; and
3: I also received a negative review about the book that felt very personal.

All of these things happened within a few days of each other.

In the past, any one of these things would have sent me into a deep depression for a day or longer. The trifecta would have made me nearly despondent. But it didn’t. After each event, after the tinge of disappointment, I remember thinking to myself, “That’s OK, something better must be coming.” I didn’t intend for that to be my response, it just was.

Those old feelings of depression, sadness, emptiness, feelings that I wasn’t good enough, seemed to have just disappeared. This is what I understood from all the trauma research I had done. I had actually changed the pathways in my mind to a new way of thinking and feeling.

It was possible! And now that I have this new way of thinking, I find the information I learned in my previous self-help addiction is easier to implement then before. It wasn’t bad information; it just wasn’t enough information for a person who was still functioning in trauma brain.

The self-help industry is a multi-billion dollar industry. When I was in trauma brain, I talked about “how it was” because none of it worked. Now that I have begun healing my trauma brain (I have a few more new pathways to develop), I understand that the information is valuable, but usually there is a lot of hard work to do before implementing the principles in any of the books. 

Some of us have never known true happiness, so trying to “tune in” to that emotion and bring more of it to us is impossible until we find, create and reinforce new pathways in our brain. We can feel helpless and paralyzed. What we really need is the support of those around us to offer guidance on our journey of self-healing!

In the end, my self-help addiction helped me heal — maybe not in the way I initially thought. I hear lots of people talk about the Law of Attraction. They are almost afraid to have a negative thought for fear it will bring more negativity. What I learned is, to begin with, you have to heal yourself from your negative thoughts. That takes patience, love and grace for yourself above anything else.

If you are going to go down the path of healing your trauma brain, you will bump into lots of negative emotions that you have to learn to overcome. It isn’t easy.

Practice, patience, and remember that we all deserve absolute joy.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

A Nation Triggered: Using Powerful Questions to Coach Ourselves to Bi-Partisanship


Using Powerful Questions to Coach Ourselves to Bi-Partisanship

But every time something gets through my “no news for the moment” safeguards, I find myself asking the same question, “What does this mean for kids in the foster care system?”  What does repealing the Affordable Care Act mean for those who just aged out? What does it mean for those covered by Medicaid?

I tell myself not to worry, that everything will work out, but will it? I mean, for the most vulnerable in the county, our children, things haven’t worked out for them so far. They have already lost their bio parents, many have been abused or neglected, and things so far have been downright difficult for them. Now, as an advocate I am trying to convince myself to keep going, but how in these uncertain times?

I heard President Obama’s last address wherein he asked us as citizens to get involved and do something to make a difference. I, like many of you who read this blog, have already heeded this call. We have stepped up in our communities to try and raise awareness and be a voice for those who are silent. But, I now find myself sitting at my desk asking if it is too little too late.

I wonder who is speaking for the children who are trapped in this system, because of the system. Those who upon turning 18 will be living below poverty. Most will become homeless or worse, end up in jail. A large percentage will develop a substance abuse problem, or become teen moms themselves.  Who is currently the voice of these children? These children are not a partisan issue to be debated. These are children, who we, as citizens, have promised to take care of, and yet each day it seems we are turning our backs.

Then I paused. In fact, I paused in the middle of writing this blog. Was this even what I wanted to say? I tucked it away for a few days, and reflected. Then a sudden realization … I am not doing the one thing that I ask rooms full of people during training to do. I am not asking a powerful question and I feel completely disempowered.

People recovering from trauma often feel very disempowered or victimized. A feeling I am relating to very much currently. However, one of the quickest ways for us to begin to empower people is to ask powerful questions and then allow them to dictate their own path of healing.  It is true that almost everything in the news currently is a statement; there are very few questions and even fewer powerful questions.

I admit it: I am frustrated. I am sick. I am angry, and I am looking for ways in which to carry on in these uncertain times.  The only way I know how to do that is through empowerment. So I ask you, regardless of your political viewpoint, where, as a Nation, do we go from here? How do we continue to protect our children, the most vulnerable?

Shenandoah Chefalo is a former foster youth, and advocate. She is the author of the memoir, Garbage Bag Suitcase, and co-founder of Good Harbor Institute an organization focused on translating evidence based research on trauma into skills that can be used immediately by individuals and organizations. You can learn more about her and her work at or