"I can walk to a place that benefits me and promotes me towards a future."
Looking into Charlotte's eyes, it's impossible not to be impressed. She has a maturity that radiates beyond her 17 years of age. At first soft-spoken, Charlotte is a talented public speaker whose confidence, determination and hopes for her generation come across loud and clear.
But Charlotte's confidence didn’t come easy. When she first stepped into the Children’s Aid Bronx Family Center, Charlotte was shy and quiet, the student who tended to hang towards the back.
That all began to change when Stacey Campo, Community Schools Youth Development Director for The Children’s Aid Society, asked Charlotte to represent her own Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School at a youth conference. Stacey had noticed Charlotte’s talent and commitment to her community. Stacey saw a dynamic public speaker behind that shy smile.
Terrified at first, Charlotte was more worried about what would happen if she didn’t show. She thought, “What if the MC says 'let's welcome Fannie Lou Hamer to the stage' and no one is there to show up?” School pride helped her to step up to the challenge, and she made a great impression on the audience that day. That experience, in turn, made a deep impression on her sense of self. She had found her spark.
Charlotte’s newfound role as an advocate empowered her. She gave presentations at school and as a representative for Children’s Aid’s Bronx Youth Council. Sometimes, she just gave speeches to her youth counselors one-on-one. Her leadership and confidence were in full bloom. When Charlotte applied to be one of the select few Youth Representatives at the 2008 Service Nation Summit, our staff had no doubt she would be selected. She was.
The two-day summit was everything she hoped it’d be. America's foremost leaders—including Barack Obama, John McCain, Laura Bush, Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, George Bush Sr., and Colin Powell—spoke about the importance of community service. And when they talked about the promise of tomorrow, about the powerful potential of our nation’s youth, she knew what they meant. She felt tomorrow’s promise; she knew they were talking about all the amazing things her and her peers can achieve.
A youth advocate and leader by every description, Charlotte knows what she wants for herself and her community: the opportunity to reach that promise. Hand in hand with Children's Aid's Youth Counselors, Charlotte continues to ensure that her peers understand that "giving back to the community is giving back to and bettering yourself." When asked how her life would be different without Children's Aid, Charlotte quickly responds, "I would probably be out there [on the streets] doing nothing, wasting my time on something unnecessary. I can walk to a place that benefits me and promotes me towards a future."
Perhaps the greatest reflection of Charlotte's accomplishments is the look of admiration in our Youth Counselor's eyes when they speak about her journey. "I've learned from her," said Youth Developer Felicia Johnson, who has spent many evenings as Charlotte’s practice audience.