“My father worked the night shift and my mother worked days. When my father wasn’t there, my mother was abusive. I had lived with my grandparents in the Philippines, and they never laid a hand on me, so I knew what my mother was doing was wrong,” Kat says.
At school, Kat heard presentations about abuse, but part of her was afraid to tell anyone what was going on at home. “I didn’t have anybody else,” she says. “I wondered what would happen to me.” Finally tiring of the abuse, she ran away. She rode the bus around town, couch surfed and even slept on the streets.
During a two-week stay at a homeless shelter, social workers tried to reunite Kat with her family. But Kat refused to go back. Her social worker finally agreed, and Kat entered “the system.”
Even before Kat was placed in foster care, her lawyer advocated for her to be matched with a CASA volunteer. The day she met volunteer Judy Pasquinelli, Kat screamed, “ You’re just here for the money!” But when Judy answered that she was volunteering, Kat started to trust her.
Judy worked tirelessly on Kat’s behalf. She advocated for her to receive mental health services, and then made sure she went to the doctor.
Kat had been dropping in and out of school since her junior year. “I turned 18 my senior year, and I could choose to emancipate or stay in the foster care system until I finished school. I wanted to quit, but Judy refused to let me leave the system without my diploma.”
Judy advocated for Kat to have visitation rights with the little brother she’d helped to raise. And when Kat was on the brink of homelessness, Judy encouraged Kat’s aunt to give her a place to live.
Ten years and three colleges after meeting Judy, Kat accomplished a feat most foster youth do not accomplish: she graduated from college. “There were so many times I was ready to give up. I would call Judy and she was always willing to listen and tell me she knew I could do it.”
Judy’s influence and Kat’s experiences in foster care drew her into advocacy work. As a member of AmeriCorps Public Allies—a program she had been involved with while in foster care—Kat served as co-chair of the Transitional Youth Task Force, making policy recommendations for disconnected youth.
Today, Kat works for a nonprofit organization, speaking about the importance of early intervention for young people who are experiencing the same issues she did. She is a member of the California Youth Empowerment Network and the Client and Family Leadership Committee. As a volunteer with Foster Care Alumni of America, she works to help former foster youth tell their stories.
Kat is now looking for a fellowship focused on policy work. She plans to go back to school and get her masters in public administration. She is determined to make a positive impact in the lives of youth in foster care.
“Judy and I have shared our experiences with volunteers in training at San Francisco CASA,” Kat says. “We talk about the ups and downs we faced and where we are now.” After one presentation, a trainee remarked, “Isn’t it amazing. Judy, you did this because you wanted to make a difference for one person and now she is making a difference in so many people’s lives.”