As published in Law.com on July 29, 2022:
“No one understands your circumstances and how hard you have to work,” said Cary Martin Shelby, a law professor at Washington and Lee University School of Law, of students who grow up in foster care. “We need to flip the narrative from 'you’re lucky to be here’ to ‘we need you here.’”
Cary Martin Shelby, a law professor at Washington and Lee University School of Law, knows what it’s like to lack familial support while in college since she had been in foster care.
She didn’t receive care packages from home like her friends did, so Shelby is working on changing that for college students who have also been in foster care.
Shelby, who graduated with a law degree from Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law in 2006, told Law.com that her company, DaCasiom, is fairly new, though she started public speaking through the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless while in law school.
“DaCasiom’s mission is to assist students in higher education who are facing adversities such as poverty and limited familial support, by helping them to identify, deploy and optimize their gifts,” according to its website.
She said she used fees she received from speaking engagements to fund 18 care packages sent to college freshmen last year, which were sent in partnership with Foster Progress, an organization that mentors and provides scholarships to high school students and college freshmen in Illinois.
The packages, which contained “a lot of snacks,” Shelby said, also included a note letting the students know “I’m proud of you” and acknowledged the challenges they may be facing.
Kate Danielson, executive director of Foster Progress, told Law.com that Shelby’s story is “really similar to some of the things our students have gone through.”
The care packages were for every freshman that was in Foster Progress during the 2021-2022 school year, Danielson said, adding that the program will have 12 students starting college this fall.
“[Shelby] wanted to show these students there is someone out there who cares and is thinking about them,” she said.
“[The care package] was deeply appreciated that I wanted to cry a bit. It was very sweet … the letter was very sweet too,” a care package recipient said in an email to Jasamine Young Paulhill, program manager at Foster Progress.
The recipient also said hearing the words “I’m proud of you and that you’ve come a long way” was much appreciated.
“This particular young person has been having a hard time being in college through the pandemic, so I know it was really meaningful for her to receive these tokens of connection and care,” Young Paulhill told Shelby in an email, according to Danielson.
“When I was in college at the University of Illinois as a former youth in foster care, my mailbox was always empty,” Shelby posted on LinkedIn earlier this month.
“I’d watch others receive care packages which made me feel even lonelier,” she wrote. “Only 3% of us [from foster care] graduate from college.”
“Now that I’m a law professor, I launched a company called DaCasiom to help students who face similar adversities,” she posted.
“I absolutely love this!! So many times we declare that we are going to remember our own walk and be a blessing to those going down that same path so that they will never relive our pains and struggles and somewhere along the path of growth we somehow forget, but you followed through wholeheartedly,” Sophia Loren Miller said on LinkedIn, replying to Shelby’s post.
Shelby said when she attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, she was just out of foster care and had lived in five different placements.
Shelby attributes her success to a combination of “luck, resources and strangers fighting for me,” so she refers to all those resources as a mosaic.
“DaCasiom” is from “Da” representing “my prior yearning to be a daughter as a person who had experienced foster care, and how that impacted my journey in higher education,” according to her website, and “’Casiom’ is mosaic, scrambled.”
“There were pieces of me scattered all over the place, so that I couldn’t see my full value,” Shelby said. “Because of these others, who were not expecting anything in return, I started recognizing my own value and voice and putting pieces together forming a beautiful picture.”
Her goal is to reach even more students in higher education and graduate school and also law school.
“No one understands your circumstances and how hard you have to work,” she said. “We need to flip the narrative” for these students from “’you’re lucky to be here’ to ‘we need you here.’”