Most recently recognized in October 2013 as one of Baltimore Magazine’s “Top 40 under 40,” CEO and founder Shalita O’Neale of The Maryland Foster Youth Resource Center is a force to be reckoned with. At first glance, you may not notice the passion in her eyes for the mission of her organization. But, it’s there.
As a product of the foster care system herself, O’Neale is able to fuse firsthand knowledge with skills acquired through her bachelor’s degree in Criminology and Criminal Justice from the University of Maryland, College Park to promote positive change in our community.
O’Neale is also currently completing a Masters of Social Work degree program at the University of Maryland, Baltimore. When asked what role education plays in her current leadership position, O’Neale quipped. “It has helped me to better understand behaviors of all people and the role of society and the community in creating solutions to issues individuals face and create.”
Issues such as emotional, physical or sexual abuse; alcoholism and drug addiction are unfortunate aspects of the harsh reality faced by many kids from the “system.” Luckily, organizations such as The Maryland Foster Youth Resource Center exist to paint a prettier picture of the future.
“[Our] mission is to connect transitioning and former foster youth ages 17-25 to housing, employment, educational resources and supportive people and networks,” noted the young entrepreneur. “I aged out of the foster care system so I am able to combine personal and professional experience to creatively address the issues of homelessness and unemployment that youth leaving foster care tend to face.”
Beating the odds may be sometimes difficult and therefore rare, yet the rewards can often outweigh the costs. O’Neale’s advice for future social moguls is simple. “Working with at-risk and under-served youth has to be a field that you truly have a passion for as it is hard work and can easily burn great people out; however the pay-off is tremendous when you’re able to see the difference you can make in the life of a young person without a family.”
Keisha Oduor is a professional writer and entrepreneur who resides in Baltimore, Maryland. She has a degree in Communications and French from New York University with work experience in publishing, nonprofits, healthcare administration and program management. Her work can be found on Examiner.com“