Having grown up in foster homes, junior Tori Wichman, member of the track and field team, experienced the foster care system’s many shortcomings firsthand. Because of this, Wichman developed a deep passion from a young age for helping other children in foster care. It is her dream to fight biases that keep foster children from thriving.
“After growing up in the foster care system I realized that it is a system with great intentions; but it leads children to fail, and since investing in children is the same as investing in the future, I know I want to cultivate some type of reform or make some kind of change within the system,” Wichman said in an email.
Now, her dreams are being realized. This past summer, Wichman interned with the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institution, better known as CCAI, in Washington, D.C. There, she wrote a policy that she presented to Congress and White House policy staffers. The policy emphasized providing foster children with an advocate for their best interests and on eliminating stereotypes by creating a national awareness day for foster children. Wichman said the negative stereotypes projected on foster children discourage them from reaching their full potential. This psychologically-proven phenomenon is known as stereotype threat.
According to Promises2Kids, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of foster children, less than 50 percent of children in foster care graduate high school and less than 3 percent complete a bachelor’s degree. During Wichman’s time in the foster care system, she was told that she would become what the statistics predicted — uneducated, unemployed, a single mother, a drug addict, or on welfare.
“Unfortunately, all of those characteristics make sense when one looks at the statistics of foster children,” Wichman said in an email. “This infuriated me, but also made me passionate about improving the foster care system and inspiring current and future foster youth to do the same. The statistics in regards to foster children are very saddening, but they do not have to be.”
Wichman herself has proved that children in foster care can succeed. Andrew Towne, head coach of cross country and track and field, said he has never had a student as thorough as Wichman. He said she does anything she needs to be successful, including during her time in Washington, D.C.
“It was not just another summer internship, it was something that touched her,” Towne said. “I have no doubt she will do really well in that field.”
When Wichman came to Hillsdale, she anticipated becoming a family counselor for foster or adopted youth and their families. Since then, however, she has decided to pursue policy in order to understand and be able to advocate for changes in the foster youth system.
Wichman has also volunteered with Children’s Lantern, a nonprofit organization that helps orphans and children in foster care.
“Tori wants to see every child get what they need to thrive because there were people in her life that helped her rise up to the level she is,” said Adam Tracy, co-director of Children’s Lantern, in an email. “She is equipping herself and the people around her to gain passion for the kids. She is using her voice to change the world.”
Wichman credits her family, coaches, and church for supporting her in her work.
“God’s goodness and granting of my family, mentor, coaches, and church has equipped me to get where I am,” Wichman said in an email.