It’s much easier to give advice than to take it. In the case of Jenny Vinopal, she embodies in her own life the advice she gives to former foster youth: “Take responsibility for your life. Don’t feel sorry for yourself or your past. The cards you were dealt don’t have to predict your future.”
Jenny, who serves as Director of Outreach & Community Development for the California Youth Connection (CYC), fled Vietnam with her mother and sister at the age of five. She survived as a boatperson, lived in various refugee camps, and was finally sent to Orange County, California.
Because her mother developed mental illness by the time she was a preteen, Jenny says, “My role was to be the transition person between the world and my little family.”
Her future life as a social worker was pre-ordained as she cared for her sister and mother, ensured there was food in the house and, at times, engaged in self-destructive behavior. Pregnant by the time she was 18, Jenny decided she wanted to be part of the “helping profession.” She worked in a homeless shelter on weekends where she discovered former foster youth and puzzled over how “wards of the state could end up homeless in one of the richest counties in the country.”
For the past 14 years, she has been involved with CYC – first as a volunteer and now as a staff person. “If you design programs around the youth voice, involving them at every step, it’s always a better program,” she says.
Her relationship with Foster Care to Success over the years has proven invaluable, Jenny says: “We have collaborated on so many levels and celebrated successes together.”
Jenny is now happily married and the mother of a 19-year-old daughter who is planning to work with foster youth, a six-year-old son and an almost two-year-old daughter. She’s also caring for her mother who lives with the family. Surely you’re not surprised.