From Aimless to Passion to Purpose

At the age of fourteen, I was placed into foster care, and at fifteen, I realized I’d spend the rest of my childhood in foster care due to my mother’s incarceration. It’s a broken system regardless of CPS’s mission to save children. I struggled to get my basic needs met in every foster home I lived.

An Unstable Support Base Impacted My Ability To Succeed

Instead of having the average teenage worries about school and puberty, my fears were about whether I’d get kicked out or have a meal to eat every day. I was insecure about my broken home life and denied involving myself in a work environment. I always feared feeling out of place due to my chaotic lifestyle. 

sign says caution unsupported ground
teen looking out the window

Gratefully, I made it to college and was given the opportunity to dorm. Before dorming, the education specialist at my agency nominated me for an annual essay-based writing competition called Awards for Youth in Care. She saw my potential before I did- I won the grand prize of $1,000! I decided to invest in my needs for dorming that year.

Unfortunately, I only lasted a semester, not because of schooling but because I needed a proper support system and deteriorated mentally. I wasn’t prepared to live independently after being uncomfortable in multiple homes in prior years. After this, I had to live with my grandmother, and living with her was something I had avoided since coming into care. I decided to start trying to find myself. 

Finding My Personal Sense of Worth Through Artistic Expression

I dabbled in many creative expressions- art, photography, writing. The writing was at the forefront for me because of its freeing feeling; if my voice felt stifled in life, I accepted that because I’d let it shine with a pen to become my listening ear. After winning the contest, I got an email to write at Represent magazine, but I rejected it. It’s a magazine written by foster children since the 80s. Although the experience sounded fruitful, I believed I needed to be compensated for sharing my real-life experiences because my personal story holds value, and I needed to survive. 

man rowing through glowing balls

A Paid Journalism Internship, My First Job

One day, I got another email from the organization that hosted the writing contest. They were now offering a paid internship to write for the magazine. The spots for the magazine internship were limited because they only accepted  15 people. I felt like this was where I belonged to grow. I waited and waited for a response after entering my submission. The feeling that washed over me when I got accepted into the internship is indescribable. I was finally getting a chance to do something I loved. 

It was a group interview, and 15 out of 200 applicants were accepted. I was nervous about that feeling of being out of place. I told the editor I didn’t do well in groups, but to my surprise, it went well. During the “interview”, we shared what we hoped to gain from the experience and why we wanted to be a part of it. Even though they had already hired us, I believe they felt it was important we still experienced that interview process for the sake of the professional workspace. The internship was about a month-long, and after that, intern authors are allowed to write for them until age 23. 

We learned about journalism during the internship and gained professional work experience. We attended protests and museums and even did a table talk at BuzzFeed. The best thing about this job was the lack of ageism. We were young people but treated equally to everyone in the office. We had to meet a certain amount of hours, go through a certain amount of drafts before publishing, and participate in office events. I wasn’t singled out and felt like a professional writer. They valued us. It was frustrating having my work edited, but that was a part of the job—a real-life experience preparing me for the future. 

Jobs Are Just As Much About Relationship Building As They Are About Work Experience

I established a relationship with my editor; she was more than helpful in my life. I remember experiencing homelessness, and she had given me clothes and food. And when I wanted a steady job, she’d land me interviews. It’s hard to find people like this in a workplace, and I think extending job opportunities to employees is essential. Often, when people are terminated, there aren’t any immediate resources for new employment. I was grateful for that; this was the starting point of a career I never thought was an option.

networking icons

Present day, I am three years aged out of foster care. I am a songwriter and a published author, and I  work as a youth advisor for a nonprofit initiative called See Us, Support Us. We spread awareness and support young people affected by parental incarceration. I connected with my current supervisor through my editor from Represent five years prior, so working here is a full-circle moment. I get to be the person I needed when I experienced these hardships, and it heals the child within me working alongside these teens. I facilitate meetings with the Youth Team, and it’s a paid opportunity for them. I became the person who helped and guided me in my times of need, and that’s the biggest blessing of life. To grow so you can impact others.

Bet On Yourself, But Don’t Do It Alone

You can grow in isolation, but alongside others in a supportive community is an indescribable experience. I never saw writing as a career for myself, but I love the community I was able to experience and what it’s done for me. I will never stop. My advice to young people regarding work experience is to be patient, bet on yourself, and bet on the unknown. You never know how you’ll change and what new experience you’ll enjoy long term. Your comfort zone isn’t your friend, and people’s perspectives of you don’t dictate who you are unless they are seeing you in a greater light than you see yourself.

Chantel Jackson

Chantel Jackson

Chantel is a 24-year-old, full-time student living in Manhattan. She is pursuing a bachelor's in Ayurvedic wellness and Integrative Health at a consciousness-based school to become a holistic medical consultant. She is on track to graduate in early 2026. Chantel is a multifaceted creative, and among her many talents are youth advocacy, singing/songwriting, art, photography, and tarot reading.