The Delaware Center for Justice — this week’s Delaware Do-Gooder — works with more than 2,000 youth and adults each year, to bring positive change and growth with those at risk or those already involved in the justice system. Sometimes, though, the lives we touch are those of our own staff. Here, Nicole Byers, a DCJ staffer with the Delaware Youth Opportunities Initiative who was recently hired by Lieutenant Governor Matt Denn, highlights the impact that DCJ had on her life story. She is a testament to the wonderful things that young people can do if given the support they need. We are so very proud of Nicole’s hard work. – Janet Leban, Executive Director
Throughout my relatively short lifetime, I have achieved many goals — though the odds were against me — and I’ve triumphed over many obstacles. I have experienced the bad, the ugly, and the unimaginable. I have also been forced to mature at a faster pace than most of my peers. Despite these experiences, I have always been self-driven, resilient, and motivated by my enduring optimism. Even so, I still credit much of my current successes to the Delaware Center for Justice (DCJ).
At the age of 16 I was working almost full-time at a local seafood restaurant. A year after I began working at the restaurant, I started studying at the University of Delaware, and trying to figure out what to do with my life after graduating. In the midst of all of this, I also became a ward of the state. One winter in 2010 at a Delaware Youth Advisory Council (a group comprised of foster youth) skating party, I was gliding around the rink when the Delaware Independent Living Program Manager and the Deputy Director of the Division of Family Services wheeled up next to me and tapped me on my shoulder. They urged me to apply for a position as a Youth Advisor at DCJ in the Delaware Youth Opportunities Initiative (DYOI), which helps youth who “age out” of foster care to make their way in the world. As the bright lights danced around on the dark rink and my wheels rolled across the glazed wood floor, I took in a deep breath and realized that this could be exactly the opportunity that I was looking for.
Going in with a freshly-updated résumé, the interview process was a breeze. My Youth Advisor position was quite new to me and different from anything I had experienced before. DCJ worked around my school schedule and was flexible for me. I was able to part ways on good terms from my restaurant job and focus more fully on college and on my new career path. At 20 years old, I was being seen as an important and valued employee. I had my own office and business cards, and I was eager to inspire others with my personal story. I was meeting some of Delaware’s great leaders, including the Governor and Lieutenant Governor, various legislators, and top administrators in various state agencies, and I was being heard as a voice for youth who have aged out of foster care!
While working at DCJ and after four years of striving to graduate, I received a Bachelor’s Degree in Human Services from U of D with a focus in Administration and Family Policy in May of 2012. Because of connections and relationships that I was able to build through my work at DCJ as an advocate for youth in foster care, I was invited by the Lieutenant Governor’s Office to apply for a position with the State. The professional mentoring I received from DCJ staff and the confidence I gained in my role as Youth Advisor at DCJ gave me the courage to step outside of my comfort zone and leap at an opportunity that comes once in a lifetime. I accepted the offer and am now in my second month of employment with the State.
If someone had told me in 2007 that in the future, I would have a job relevant to my degree before graduating, be able to leave my restaurant job, graduate college on time, and then receive a request directly after graduation to be the full-time Assistant to Delaware’s Lt. Governor, I would have told that person that they may want to seek professional help for their insanity. Now, looking back across the last 6 years, I realize that one of the most developmentally beneficial, and skill-sharpening experiences I have had was with the Delaware Center for Justice and the wonderful passionate people who work hard for what they believe. Such an atmosphere of rich fertile minds can only bear marvelous fruits. I sincerely thank the staff of DCJ and DYOI!
Nicole Byers works for the Office of Lt. Governor Matt Denn and credits her experience with the Delaware Center for Justice as one reasons she is on a successful career path.