Nebraska has a new representative for the Jim Casey Fellowship Class of 2021 – Nedhal Al-kazahy. Nebraska Children and Families Foundation is especially happy to receive this great news.
As an initiative, Connected Youth provides supports and services for young people between the ages of 14-26 who experienced foster care, child welfare, human trafficking, juvenile justice or probation, and homelessness and creates system change through young adults’ leadership and advocacy.
Nedhal’s accomplishments occur one after the other. In addition to receiving this fellowship, she has completed the Youth Leadership Institute and inspires young people of color and their allies to work with elected officials to address community inequities and create lasting change.
Meanwhile, having experienced the foster care system and its complexities, Nedhal will remain involved with the local Connected Youth Initiative. She intends to continue her work in Nebraska and partner with other Young Fellows on various national projects that improve young people’s outcomes as they transition out of foster care.
The Jim Casey Fellowship that Nedhal received is through the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative, which supports young people as they exit the foster care system and into adulthood. Every year, the organization names 12-13 promising young leaders to continue to enact positive change for young people who experienced foster care.
Nedhal said that she looks forward to this new chapter and distinction.
“Annie E Casey Foundation is a dream nonprofit to be a part of, and it is such a pillar in the nonprofit community, so to be able to work there is amazing,” she said.
Nedhal said that she looks forward to elevating her work to a national level in the nonprofit field.
“Helping more than I could before in the foster care system is amazing,” she said. “I’m hoping I can better prepare young adults to feel comfortable being on their own and becoming an adult.”
Due to her experience, Nedhal intends to strengthen the foster care system and its misperceptions.
“I think people forget that we are still young adults, and our whole lives, the system has been like ‘parents,’” she said.
Nedhal said that one of the largest stressors occurs when young people disconnect from the foster care system yet are expected to navigate a complex adult world.
“And so, when [the foster care system] helps us financially, and then it ends, and we are told, ‘OK, good luck on your own,” she said.
Nedhal said, “It’s nerve-racking because now we have nothing. I want to help that transition to be better and way more comfortable.”
As Nedhal likens the foster care system to a parent, she believes young people should rbe able to remain connected to this support.
“Because when you are in your early 20s, your parents [should] still help you,” she said. “So, we must help the young adults aging out because the system helped them financially, but now [these services and supports are] taken away, and we have no idea what to do next. That’s where I want to come in and help.”
As a participant of Connected Youth Initiative, Nedhal says that she’s grateful for the services that have helped amplify her voice.
“CYI has helped make my voice stronger and louder in many ways, but for example, it’s helped make me feel more put-together when fighting for change and being the voice for the youth and young adults,” she said.
As she steps farther into her leadership role, Nedhal said she is already examining how she can create positive outcomes for system-involved young people.
“I think a way we can strengthen the system is remembering that we are still kids, and yes, there may be trauma, but we are still kids!” she said. “We are just stronger than most kids our age because we had to be, due to our trauma, and what we endured at such a young age.”
She said that to improve the system, we need to stop stigmatizing trauma faced by children and youth.
“Most don’t get the childhood that they deserved because of [trauma] and the system. But we have to remember, they are still kids and to stop labeling them as juveniles.”
With this dismissive language, Nedhal said, comes a refusal to see her cohorts’ resilience.
“At the end of the day, they are so much stronger than they should have been, especially at that age, and THAT makes them amazing,” she said.
As with any effective leader, Nedhal’s compassion comes from experience.
“Well, I was in the system for about 15 years, so I went through all parts of it and saw the good and the bad,” she said.
“The fact that I have the lived experience and saw heard, experienced it all already shows [other young people] that I’ll be able to relate and understand where their concerns are with the system,” she said.
“Youth and young adults want someone to listen for a change and knowing that I can do that AND understand and be the voice for them until they can be, I think is a great first step.”