I am beyond excited to join Trellis Foundation as the new Grants Administrator and Operations Assistant. I believe my previous personal and professional experiences have led me here. I begin this new journey looking forward to learning more about the grantmaking process and contributing to the educational success of others. Advocating for others has always been my passion, so I look forward to continuing the work in a new position.

College and Career: On Your Mark

My path to Trellis Foundation began in 2009, at the ripe old age of 19! While studying full time at Texas Tech University, I was hired as a Youth Specialist for the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS). My position was unique: the Youth Specialist position is offered only to an alumnus of foster care. My role was to create and facilitate a Youth Leadership Committee (YLC) for the region. The purpose of the committee was to provide the perspective of young people in state custody and to discuss the concerns and needs of youth in foster care. The YLC regularly provided input and feedback for policy development. Select youth would attend Youth in Action Day at the Texas Capitol, allowing those young people to see that their voices could lead to change. It was amazing to witness.

While working at the DFPS, I served on the Disproportionalities committee. This committee, among other duties, focused on the disproportionate rates of African Americans and Latinos in foster care. Our responsibilities included educating staff on cultural and socioeconomic differences that may occur during foster care investigations. For example, I specifically remember a committee member stating: “Poverty is not neglect.” This experience was eye-opening, as it allowed me to see the influence of race and socioeconomic status in my work, and how it impacts the foster care system.

However, balancing work, family, and school became overwhelming. I decided it was time for a life break. In 2012, with 9 credit hours to graduate, I withdrew from college. I left my job with the state, and I moved to Las Vegas, Nevada.

Career: Get Set

After a two-year break, I returned to school and received a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Texas Tech University. My original plan was to become a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC). I would’ve completed my master’s degree part time while working full time, but fate had other plans.

In 2014, I became a Preparation for Adult Living (PAL) facilitator, facilitating the same PAL classes I once participated in as a former foster youth. PAL Courses are mandated by the state of Texas for all foster youth, ages 16-18. I was responsible for facilitating a local Dallas nonprofit’s curriculum, covering 6 topics: Personal & Social Relations, Health & Safety, Housing & Transportation, Job Readiness, Financial Management, and Life Responsibilities. Each year, I worked with hundreds of youth aging out of care. Session after session, I realized that many of the young people were not making education plans. The few of them who said they were interested in pursuing education lacked direction and understanding of the process. It was clear to me that preparation for post-secondary education was needed.

Career: GO

In 2017, I became The Education Advocate for the CitySquare TRAC program. In this position, I focused solely on educational outcomes for current and former foster youth. Currently, less than 10% of former foster youth attain a 4-year degree. By working directly with the students, I began to understand how and why post-secondary outcomes are lower for former foster youth. Most of the young adult students I worked with experienced housing and food insecurity. They often had little support outside of TRAC and me. I genuinely enjoyed providing direct service, but I realized that it only benefited those receiving support from the TRAC program. My hope is to impact change on a larger scale.

Trellis Foundation’s focus on improving attainment for low- to moderate-income students aligns perfectly with my desire for largescale impact. I have already learned a great deal in my time here, and I look forward to participating in the work the foundation supports.

About the Author

An image of Lakya Lewis.

Lakia Lewis joins Trellis Foundation following her passion to advocate and serve at-risk populations through education. She began her career as a Youth Specialist for the Department of Family and Protective Services. In 2014, Ms. Lewis made the transition to the nonprofit sector. Her work focused on education retention and recovery for current and former foster youth. Ms. Lewis serves as a committee member for the Texas Youth Permanency Research Council and continues to advocate for at-risk populations through volunteer work.

She earned a bachelor’s of arts in psychology from Texas Tech University.