AVB’s Dave Meekings introduces MBA candidate, U.S. Navy reservist and Together We Rise scholar Juanje Davis to attendees at last month’s BrandSource Convention.

By Juanje Davis

My name is Juanje Davis, and I would like to share a little insight into my story.

I was selected as a scholarship recipient from the Together We Rise (TWR) Family Fellowship Scholarship Program. For those of you who are not familiar with this program, it supports select foster youth students via financial, educational, and all-around support through their college years.

See: BrandSource, Exhibitors Rise Up to Aid Foster Youth

Before I continue further, I want everyone to use a combination of memory and imagination to think back to being 15 years old and pondering your future. Picture it as if you are driving down an imaginary road. What did you see through your windshield view of the future? Maybe college, trade school, or just extra-curricular activities that indeed lie ahead.

My Journey Begins: Dead on the Road

I like to think of my life as a journey down a long, uncharted road. In my mind’s eye, my journey was also in that same car — only mine was stalled and broken down on a country road. As I would quickly learn, nobody was coming to save me.

You see, I come from a background where both my parents struggled with addiction and legal issues that would lead to foster care. I would be a first-generation college student. I entered the foster care system when I was five. I was placed in a home where I was manipulated and neglected.

At 15, my foster parents stopped getting paid because of their actions, or lack of action at a time when I had no control. Once the family stopped getting paid, I was kicked out. Everything I possessed was literally thrown away in front of me. I can still visualize that trashcan.

This experience fueled my desire to go to college and build a future. Education became my number-one priority because I knew an education could never be taken away from me. I knew education was my way out. It would allow me to write my own narrative and change the direction in which I was headed.

The Destination Revealed

Let’s go back to my analogy of the stalled car. My dream of getting an education had given the car some fuel, but it was still missing many parts to get it running. Being a first-generation college student brings all sorts of challenges because it’s all unchartered territory. I had no idea how I would pay for college, housing, and provide for myself simultaneously.

The biggest challenge was the college expenses. I could not survive and make it happen with my job at Subway. The next biggest challenge would be finding stable housing. When I was kicked out of foster care, I found myself sleeping couch to couch to finish high school. College would present a new set of challenges such as transportation, as well as other out-of-pocket costs.

Together We Rise stepped in to help me meet all of these challenges and has supported me through the Family Fellowship Scholarship.  The program paid for my college education expenses (tuition, fees, books and academic support). They’ve also provided resources to help bridge any financial gaps, such as other scholarships or internship opportunities, transportation assistance, food vouchers, and different personal needs. 

Up and Running: Full Speed Ahead!

Once stuck on the side of the road, that car has what it needs, is running, and is ready to start moving forward!

TWR understands that attending to the needs of foster youth is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor. Yet I and all the others share one thing in common: We all come from broken families. By creating a family, TWR is changing that dynamic and, in doing so, is changing lives.

Through all of this, I was determined to graduate from college debt-free. I achieved that goal by earning associate’s and bachelor’s degrees in business with honors without incurring any debt.

I am currently finishing my Master’s in Business Administration at Indiana Wesleyan University with a 4.0 GPA.

A mere 3 percent of former foster youth go on to obtain a college degree. That is 690 foster youth out of 23,000 who age out of foster care each year. I am one of 690. I have beaten the odds and am forever grateful for the blessing I received through this scholarship.

The Journey Continues

This is only the beginning of my journey. Graduating college with all odds stacked against me has made me who I am today. I am Juanje Davis, a former foster youth, a college graduate, a United States Navy sailor, and a proud foster youth advocate.

I will continue to grow and excel in my next professional opportunity, wherever that may be. I plan to switch from a reserved enlisted sailor to a Navy officer. Ultimately, my career goal is to become a senior corporate executive committed to advocating for vulnerable populations and fighting for child welfare.

I thank you for your support of Together We Rise and for hearing my story.

Together We Rise is a non-profit organization dedicated to bettering the lives of the hundreds of thousands of children and young adults who find themselves adrift in the nation’s foster care system. BrandSource members and vendors surpassed a Convention21 goal of raising $150,000 for the program at last month’s show.