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Samanthya’s Story: Advocating for Foster Care Youth

Samanthya Marlatt first heard of YSS when she entered foster care at age 11.

Then known as Youth & Shelter Services, the nonprofit offered a weekly program in Ames to connect youth like Samanthya. After graduating from high school and aging out of foster care, Samanthya moved to Des Moines, where she stayed connected through YSS’s Aftercare program for foster care alumni. She credits the program with helping guide her into adulthood and independence.

“I went from having structure in foster care to a lot of freedom, where I could make my own decisions,” Samanthya says. “Aftercare helped me with short-term and long-term goal setting, so I could learn how to think ahead and plan out my next steps.”

Samanthya attended Grand View University with assistance from YSS, becoming the first-ever graduate of the Post-Secondary Education Retention Program (PSERP), which offers support from tutoring to financial planning. She also served on the youth board for Iowa Homeless Youth Centers (IHYC), a YSS organization based in Des Moines.

After earning her degree, Samanthya’s PSERP advocates helped her prepare her resume to get a job at Prevent Child Abuse Iowa. Wanting to build her skillset, she then joined AmeriCorps and received her master’s degree from Drake University. She and her husband became foster parents and were happy to offer a welcoming home to kids who needed it most.

“During all this time, I was always still supporting IHYC and YSS efforts, whether it was through social media or conversations,” Samanthya explains.

After a few years, Samanthya made another career change and joined IowaWORKS, which connects job seekers with employers. By chance, two YSS staff—PSERP advocate Mark Core and Aftercare coordinator Kelli Noveshen—were guests on the organization’s “Mission Employable” podcast, and Samanthya had the idea to create a community partnership between YSS and IowaWORKS.

Samanthya began visiting the IHYC Youth Opportunity Center every Thursday to provide assistance with resume writing, job searching, and interview practice.

“I became really passionate about IHYC,” Samanthya says. “Showing up for these young people, providing consistency every week, and removing some of the barriers they face—it was important.”

During these Thursday visits, Samanthya often talked with Andrew Allen, President & CEO of YSS. One day, he asked if she would consider applying to be the new program manager for AMP.

AMP (Achieving Maximum Potential) is a statewide group led by YSS that seeks to unleash the full potential among foster and adoptive children in Iowa. With the motto “Nothing about us, without us,” AMP empowers youth through leadership opportunities and educational assistance, and works to improve child welfare policies in Iowa.

Samanthya looked at the job description and knew she had to apply.

“When I think about my history with YSS, as well as my passion for creating better outcomes for youth who experience foster care, it was a perfect fit,” she says. “Then I got the job offer and I thought: ‘This is really a full circle.’ It feels like being home.”

As she steps into her new role, Samanthya is excited to use her experience in foster care to lead the AMP program. She comes in with ambitious goals, including bolstering professional development, reconnecting young people after the pandemic, and building skills to help participants achieve their career and life goals.

Samanthya says she wouldn’t be where she is without YSS programs and staff.

“Through all the ambiguity of entering foster care, aging out of foster care, moving homes—the one thing that was consistent was YSS,” Samanthya says. “YSS gave me opportunities to make it here today.”

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