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This Is Me: More than a statistic
It was July 30, 2013, Lexie Gruber’s heart was pounding so fast that her vision blurred and she couldn’t see through her glasses. In her hand was a speech and ahead of her was a room filled with congressmen and women. She was moments away from testifying to the room, urging them to add an amendment to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Just being there showed that Gruber was beating the odds against the damaging impacts of foster care.
According to the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, there are more than 400,000 children in the United States living in foster care. Two to four years after aging out of the foster care system at 18, 9 percent end up unemployed, 40 percent rely on public assistance, 25 percent become homeless and 20 percent go to jail, not including the number of individuals who die. Only 6 percent of that population will live a stable life, and even less will obtain a college degree.
Gruber is one of few; a light in the dark statistics of a broken system. Not because of luck, but because of her passion and drive to become more than just a failing number that people will look at years from now.
Her foster care journey began when she was a high school freshman. At 14 years old, she was placed in a shelter in Hartford. Sophomore year approached and she was still without a permanent family. The shelters were moving her around nearly nonstop, making it almost impossible to attend school, but her desire for an education never dwindled.
“I remember being told by the foster care officials that I would never find a permanent foster family,” Gruber said. She believes that her age made her ‘used goods.’ “ So I gave up on wanting that and put all of my effort into receiving an education.”
Right before her junior year, Gruber was told that the only way she would be able to go back to her original high school was if she became homeless and chose to live in shelters. Without hesitating, she agreed, and spent the time moving almost nonstop. Instead of adding a year on to her education and completing her sophomore year alone, she took on both sophomore and junior years at once. Aside from that, she was also completing two internships and held a board position for The Connecticut Forum, a non profit discussion panel. She ended her year with a 3.9 GPA.
As a rising senior, Gruber believed that she would be graduating from her high school like the rest of her peers. However, the state of Connecticut had different plans for her. They wanted to send her to a new school in a high crime area. With the help of a superintendent and The McKinney-Vento Act; a bill that protects rights pertaining to education of homeless and foster children, Gruber was able to receive her high school diploma as planned.
Nearly two years later, Gruber found herself in Washington D.C. as one of 15 foster children chosen to partake in a summer internship program for the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute. For the duration of the program, Gruber was paired with Congressman Jim McDermott of Seattle and had the responsibility of creating a federal policy report as well as working in McDermott’s office. To her, this was another step toward making her dream of helping other foster children receive a stable education into reality.
“In foster care, I saw kids that didn’t have the ability to get an education because they didn’t have the resources that I had,” she said. “The average foster child lives in 3.38 different homes per year. A lot of them lost hope and got frustrated because of this. Since then I’ve always wanted to become a voice for the other people that needed it.”
Within hours of being in the office, Gruber proved to McDermott’s staff that she has what it takes to be a success on Capitol Hill.
“I remember Lexi’s first day of her internship so well,” said Jason Lemons, the intern coordinator for the program. “Our phones were ringing off the hook and one of her jobs was to help answer the sometimes angry callers. With the little direction that I gave her, she was able to confidently handle even the toughest callers with respect.”
Gruber’s strength and resilience turned her into a confident, professional individual who was able to fit right into the more mature political scene. Lemons wasn’t the only person who noticed Gruber’s competence in the office; McDermott’s Chief of Staff Diane Shust echoed Lemons’ sentiments.
“The first thing that comes to mind when I think of Lexie is all of her energy,”Shust said. “Lexie made such a lasting, incredible impact on everyone in our office.”
When Gruber wasn’t working in the office or crafting her policy report, she was experiencing all facets of life on Capitol Hill. From watching votes occur to attending meetings, she truly got to see it all.
“I knew the moment that I got to D.C. I belonged here,” Gruber said. “I just felt that this was where I’d be able to make a change.”
After a summer’s worth of hard work and countless hours of research, Gruber’s moment to shine in front of Congress finally came. It was her turn to read her own policy report on the educational instability of the foster care community. After she was done, members congratulated her for doing so well and said that they hope to take her policy and put it into law. Everything that had occurred in her life had finally come full circle.
But Gruber’s dream to make an impact won’t end there. The aspiring congresswoman plans to head back down to Washington, D.C. next semester to continue her work, and when she graduates from Quinnipiac she wants to go straight to law school. Though she wants to continue helping children in foster care, Gruber also has a strong desire to use her talents to push for women’s rights as well.
“I’ll always be a foster kid,” she said. “Do I want to be a professional foster kid? No, but I want to help them. If you go through something and have the ability to change it, you have a responsibility to and that’s what I’m doing.”