Youth Villages stories

David signing his books

North Carolina’s Growing Stronger Summit

Jun 25, 2024 | Blog, LifeSet

North Carolina held its first-ever Growing Stronger Summit, a two-day event featuring keynote speaker David Ambroz, author and national child welfare and poverty expert. Thirty years ago, David was a homeless, malnourished child being removed from his mentally ill mother’s custody after years of neglect and abuse. Today, he is an executive at Amazon, celebrated by the Obama administration, and a foster parent.

On day one, staff, LifeSet youth, donors and guests gathered to hear David read excerpts from his personal memoir, “A Place Called Home.” He shared his early life’s journey and expertise on how society can transform a child welfare system to better benefit children. More than 700 kids enter the foster care system daily. This staggering statistic can be overwhelming, but it is a call to action for significant change.

We put a person on the moon, we can end child poverty.

- David

The reading was followed by a Q and A session, led by Youth Villages North Carolina board member, Erika Carney. Erika asked insightful questions about David’s childhood and how it affected his outlook on systemic issues.

David and Erika on stage

The next morning, David gave a keynote address followed by a panel discussion focused on insight into the workforce and how public and private sectors including businesses can bridge employment gaps by supporting transition-age foster youth and all employees in their mental health journeys. The panel also highlighted how we can better educate everyone on children’s, young adults’, and adults’ mental health in the workplace and in schools. It was an inspiring conversation with over 100 corporate leaders, elected officials, funders, and child welfare advocates in one room to learn more about how we can turn thoughts into action and become true allies. Among all the fantastic thought leaders, guests heard from LifeSet youth, creating an opportunity for their voices to be heard from first hand experience.

panel of guests including David answering questions

panel moderator and lived experience youth talkingThe panel was moderated by Robby Carney, Cornelius Town Commissioner and Principal, O&G Consulting. Along with David, we heard insights from Sloan Denny, Educational & Vocational Coordinator at Youth Villages, Carlo Moore, Marketing & Communications Manager at Road to Hire, Kris Sheridan, Clinical Coach at Youth Villages, and Mariah Hunt, Lived Experience Board Member for Youth Villages. Each panelist had an important viewpoint on the challenges that our young adults aging out of foster care may face once they enter the workforce. Mariah mentioned, “Our trauma doesn’t just go away when we get a job. It follows us into the workplace, and we need employers to not only understand that but also give us support.”

One thing everyone agreed on is that vulnerable population of youth aging out of public systems needs more support from communities. Conversations like this can bring about actionable changes in our workplaces and other systems.

David and several LifeSet youth posing for photo

Thank you to Piedmont Natural Gas, Novant Health, Verigent, and United Bank for sponsoring our Growing Stronger events this month and to The Duke Endowment for hosting us for an especially important discussion. If you would like to receive a copy of David’s book, please contact April Vahey.

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