A Foster-Free Future
Aaryn Pratt (MS '05) has achieved professional success, is a proud mother of two, and actively participates in her community. You'd never suspect that she spent a tumultuous childhood in foster care.
"My mother had major drug addictions; she was in and out of prison, so I went to live with my grandparents, who were alcoholics. In my first year of foster care I moved nine times."
Studies have consistently revealed poor outcomes for youth after they leave foster care, but Pratt beat the odds: She graduated from high school, put herself through college and graduate school, and earned her position as director of organizational effectiveness at Gap Inc.
Determined to do something to help other foster children break the cycle, Pratt became active in the Marin Advocates for Children, an organization that recruits, screens, trains, and supervises volunteer advocates for Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA). CASA volunteers are sworn officers of the court, appointed to investigate and report on the best interests of foster children.
"I didn't have a CASA advocate," Pratt laments. "At 6 years old, I had to represent myself, and at 6, no one believes you."
Unfortunately, becoming a CASA volunteer is highly rigorous and unpaid. "They go through 32 hours of training, and it requires a yearlong commitment. Then they also have their continuing education every year."
Using her organizational development background, the Graziadio School alumna came up with an idea for an e-learning program to expand the education programs for CASA volunteers, and make them more accessible.
She submitted a proposal for Gap Inc.'s annual Founders’ Award, which awards $50,000 to an employee who proposes an innovative solution to deliver a positive social impact. The judges were so touched by her story, and the potential impact of the program, that they selected Pratt's proposal out of hundreds.
Pratt hopes the program will touch the lives of thousands of foster children. "We don’t need to stay small. With this platform, we can be a portal to build community and collaboration with other agencies."
Pratt has one year to launch the platform, and Toby Lenk, president of the e-commerce division of Gap Inc., has signed on to ensure that she has the resources she needs. But that is not the end of Pratt's crusade. Fueled by the same determination that helped her overcome her own odds, Pratt's goal is to eradicate all child abuse and neglect.
"I am the possibility of a foster-free future. I will always be working toward that—it's a lifelong commitment."