Ryan Young was born in Mariupol, Ukraine, into extreme poverty. Ryan and his older brother were placed in an orphanage when they were very young, and Ryan dreamed of someday having a family. When Ryan was six years old, he got word that his dreams had come true; he and his brother were to be adopted by a young Argentinian-US woman. They were among the last children to be adopted before president Viktor Yushchenko changed Ukrainian international adoption laws.
Ryan and his brother flew to Illinois with their new mother in 2008. The family moved to California, and then to Arizona. While his childhood in the US was better than it would have been in the Ukraine, it was not without hardships. The family struggled with housing and food security, and his mother struggled with mental health issues.
Eventually, Ryan and his brother were sent to a boarding school back in Illinois. But, Ryan wanted to be in Arizona with his mother, and he ran away from the boarding school multiple times – attempting to reunite with his mom. Ryan was eager to reconnect with his adoptive mother, but her circumstances prevented Ryan from staying with her. Ryan entered foster care in Arizona when he was 16 years old, and was in and out of various group and foster homes.
In 2020, Ryan received his GED (General Education Diploma), and he signed up for a federally funded – state administered – Voluntary Extended Foster Care Program with the Arizona Department of Child Safety, to receive educational and career support.
Mentors with the Arizona Friends of Foster Care Foundation and many others helped Ryan choose a school and apply for financial aid, and in 2020, he enrolled at Phoenix College (PC), where he also received the prestigious Nina Mason Pulliam Legacy Scholarship. He loves the PC campus, his professors, and engaging with fellow students. When the pandemic shifted all learning online, Ryan worried he would lose the sense of belonging and community that he found at PC. But, to his surprise, he enjoys learning online.
When he’s not doing school work, Ryan advocates fiercely to give children, youth, and families in foster care a voice. He is the co-chair of the Arizona Department of Child Safety's (DCS) Citizens Review Panel aimed at improving outcomes for youth from foster care into successful transitions into adulthood, in addition to becoming the President to Arizona DCS Youth Empowerment Council where he hopes to increase youth and family participation in policies and practices impacting foster care in Arizona.
At the start of the pandemic, Ryan helped mobilize a team of advocates across the country to prevent 18,000 older foster youth from being kicked out of the systems’ supports. Ryan was awarded the Civic Leadership Medallion from the Maricopa County Community Colleges District for this work. Ryan was also recognized by U.S. Senator Mark Kelly with the Angels in Adoption Award, for tirelessly advocating for foster youth across the country.
Earlier this year, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey appointed Ryan to serve on the Governor’s Council on Child Safety and Family Empowerment. He is the first alumni from foster care and the youngest in the state to be appointed to the Council. The Council is focused on aligning, leveraging, and coordinating faith-based and community resources to address challenges faced by vulnerable children and families who may be engaged, or at risk of engaging, with the child welfare system. The Council also works to provide additional support to strengthen families that are caring for both foster and adopted children.
Ryan has also joined the National Foster Care Youth & Alumni Policy Council which convenes to provide federal stakeholders with relevant and timely information as policies and procedures are created that will impact children and families. The National Policy Council represents a collective viewpoint of youth and alumni who have personal experience in the foster care system.
During the summer of 2022, Ryan was accepted into the prestigious Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute’s Foster Youth Internship program, where he spent nine weeks interning with U.S. Representative Raul M. Grijalva on Capitol Hill. In Washington, Ryan gained experience and insight into the everyday functions of the federal government and Congress. He also got the opportunity to author a Congressional Record statement recognizing June as National Family Reunification Month.
For the second part of the prestigious internship on Capitol Hill, Ryan researched a federal policy topic on improving the U.S. child welfare system, which turned into a federal policy report titled, Well-Being In Action: Expanding Equitable Access to Comprehensive Supports for Foster Youth. He proposes more investment towards creating opportunities for young adults to thrive by extending critical support through age 26 would drastically increase better and successful outcomes for transition aged youth from foster care.
Ryan recently celebrated his 21st birthday, so he no longer receives the State support (i.e. the Chafee Grant), which benefited him throughout his young adulthood from foster care. Ryan’s policy proposals would increase support permanently to serve former foster youth up to their 27th birthday in every state and jurisdiction, and aligns with President Biden’s investment to permanently increase the Chafee Program allocation by $100 million. Ryan presented his policy proposals with his CCAI FYI Class, to the 117th U.S. Congress, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, White House Domestic Policy Council, and private sector partners.
Ryan is back in Arizona, and back in classes, and he met Phoenix College president Dr. Kimberly Britt (a former foster youth herself) at the first meeting of Britt’s BEARS, a new student club supporting foster youth and former foster youth. Dr. Britt and Ryan, and other students met with PC mentors and success coaches to build a community of support.
When Ryan completes his associate of arts degree in political science at PC in May, he plans to transfer to Arizona State University to pursue a bachelor’s degree in public service and public policy, with an emphasis in social service delivery. One day, he hopes to run for elected office to help ensure young people, their families and marginalized communities have opportunities to speak about their lived-experiences at all levels of the decision-planning and making processes.
To learn more about the Bridging Student Success or Britt’s BEARS programs supporting foster youth, visit phoenixcollege.edu/bridging-success or call 602-285-7503.