Signs, Inspiration, and Responsibility: My Path Toward Youth Advocacy

By Denise Burry

Recently, I found myself watching a video by a veteran named Richard Pimentel. His speech on being a leader resonated with me. He said “responsibility is a word made up of two words, the word ‘response’ and the word ‘ability’.” Responsibility isn’t what someone puts on you. Responsibility isn’t your job description.” He went on to say, “we all find ourselves looking at situations and we all find ourselves with abilities and what we have to ask is: given my abilities what then will be my response to those abilities?” His words pretty much summed things up for me.

A picture of Denise taken by a fellow YL team member, Yaminah.

In one week, I travel from Leesburg, Florida to the San Francisco, CA area. I’m going on a training journey with the four young women of the Youth Leadership Team at the Pollination Project. This trip is significant to me for so many reasons. For one, I have never traveled this far by myself. To stay with people I don’t know is way outside my comfort zone: but, I am so excited. I look for signs in everything I do, typically finding them in threes. It helps. The signs I’ve found about this trip is the cities where my team members are coming from: Ithaca, Austin, and Atlanta. All have special meaning to me right now because they are ties to my family.

Honestly, a lot of this wouldn’t mean much to most but for me my family is everything. I am so incredibly blessed to have them and I recognize that because some years ago I lost a close friend and that loss changed me forever. Just before her accident we had a long talk about what we wanted most of all in life. During this conversation we both decided that the most important thing was to raise our children. About a month later, my friend was gone. The reality that her kids had experienced the greatest loss they could suffer — and I could not ease that feeling no matter how hard I tried — left me overwhelmed.

Almost exactly a year later, more children in my life had become orphaned when a drunk driver took the life of my step-sister. Her immediate family was going to be able to take care of them – but, something about these circumstances left me with a notion that this time there was something I could do: and that thing was to become an adoptive parent. I convinced my husband that we needed to become parents to children (especially teenagers) who didn’t or wouldn’t have parents unless we stepped up to the plate. Fast forward to today and we have adopted two extraordinary kids that have grown our bunch to make a total of eight. After adopting I became a Guardian Ad Litem, provided space for five exchange students, and eight homeless kids who have called our place their home (w/ my husband being a supportive awesome dad.)

Volunteers with Forward Paths Foundation.

Volunteers with Forward Paths Foundation.

Personal losses in my life have transformed not our only personal commitment to youth advocacy, but has led us to create a charitable program called Forward Paths, Inc. – based in a rural part of Florida. I don’t have all the answers but I am working on solutions. Our organization was launched with the support of a $1000 Pollination Project seed grant … which was the first grant I’d ever received! Our focus is on kids aging out of foster care and homeless unaccompanied youth. Things have to change and I feel called to make sure they do at least in my community. Running a non-profit and working with homeless youth was not in my game plan but these youth have been a blessing that I never expected. Some days, I look to them for inspiration and ways to get through the day.

So, now as I get set to travel, my hope is this journey leads me to ways to make more of an impact. I feel that it is my responsibility and my way to give back. Hopefully, I will convince others that they too can make a difference and make a change for the youth in their communities. As Pimentel asked, “What abilities do you have? And more importantly what is your response?” He went on to talk about how leaders don’t get people to believe in them but instead get people to believe in themselves. That is what I hope I have done as a mother and now that is the kind of leader I am determined to be. Like he states in his message: I believe that if these youth are given the support that they need to believe in themselves — they will pay back us back in ways that you can not imagine! I saw the need with these kids, who for some reason did not have parents who could care for them at what I consider one of the hardest times in their lives, and I felt with my abilities I could help.

To learn more about Denise and her organization click here.

Dejah Powell

Greg Acuna

Greg Acuna is a member of The Pollination Project’s Global Kindness Team. Together with their colleagues, they find, fund, and support projects which bring us closer together through kindness, compassion, and building a deeper understanding rooted in our shared humanity.

2018-09-12T10:31:11+00:00
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