Remember the name Lexie Gruber. You will probably be hearing it in the years ahead because Lexie has already defined a purpose for her life -- and a plan.
“I hope to one day become Governor of Connecticut and work to improve the lives of the individuals within my home state. “
That might not sound surprising coming from a college senior who is about to graduate with her dreams intact. But it is when you hear her inspiring story.
Beginning at the age of 14, Lexie was shuffled from foster homes to a group home and then a shelter, which she says was filthy and frightening.
“Many of the girls were newly released from juvenile detention or jails, and my small stature made me the perfect target for their physical aggression. They used everything from their hands to a hot pan. “
Eventually, her luck took a turn for the better when she found a high school where the teachers and staff constantly encouraged her to defy her environment, stay in school and reach for the stars.
"I had an amazing education and I understand how that saved my life.”
Now, Lexie is working to help save the lives of other foster care kids like herself and put them on a path to success.
“I have been drawn to issues of injustice and social advocacy since I was a child. When I became a victim of injustice in the child welfare system, my passion for advocacy became personal.“
In her freshman year of college, Lexie spoke at a conference she helped plan on improving opportunities in higher education for youth in state care.
"I may have made it; I may have survived, but there are a lot of people I love and care about who didn't."
Lexie’s focus has been the older youth in foster care because she says they have the longest stays and are often an invisible population. She reports that in 2012 nearly 24-thousand children turned 18 and aged out of the foster care system to face a bleak future. Many of them end up homeless or incarcerated within a few years, while only 3 percent graduate from college.
“One of the biggest challenges that I have faced in my advocacy is engaging the community in ensuring success and safety for the children in the child welfare system. People are often quick to say that they support and empathize with foster children. However, very few individuals actually back up their words with concrete action.”
Lexie says the foster care system alone cannot give children the guidance and support they need to become educated, engaged, productive members of society.
“We need community members to become foster parents, mentors, and employers to foster children in order to allow them to achieve their full potential.”
As Lexie continues to develop her own potential, earning her college degree and advocating for foster children in her home state of Connecticut and in Washington D.C., she says her work has changed how she sees her own significance in the world.
“I now realize that I have the power to meaningfully impact the lives of individuals for the better. It makes me excited to continue working, because I realize just how much needs to be done.”
In 2015, Lexie graduated magna cum laude from Quinnipiac University with a degree in political science. Two days after graduating, she testified before the U.S. Senate Finance Committee about her experiences in the foster care system and offered policy recommendations to reduce reliance on group homes. Shortly after the hearing, the Senate introduced the Family First Act, which would prevent children from entering foster care by supporting birth families and would end the practice of warehousing children in group homes.
Lexie is currently Policy Associate at the American Public Human Services Association, where she is part of a team that represents state and local child welfare agencies before Congress and the Administration. Lexie also provides consultation on federal and state child welfare agencies for the U.S. Health and Human Service’s Children’s Bureau through the National Capacity Building Center for Public Child Welfare Agencies.