Melissa Wontroba’s time in foster care shaped her into an advocate at a very young age. She entered the foster care system when she was 3 years old, and she was adopted by a wonderful foster family when she 6. She always had a great deal of love and respect for her adoptive parents. “I was brought up in a loving and happy home,” she said. “I was never labeled as the foster kid or treated any differently than my parents’ biological children.”
“Some people are not capable to take care of their children,” she said, adding that the majority of cases are drug-related followed by abuse and neglect of children. “Almost every circumstance (of child placement in foster care) is extremely necessary.”
As an adult, Wontroba was able to read her file and learn all about her biological parents. Based on the information available to her, she made the choice not to seek them out.
Her work as an advocate at age 17 landed her as the youngest ever appointed member of the Fayette County CYS Advisory Board. The Board makes recommendations on funding appropriations for children in foster care. Wontroba used her experiences and the ones of those around her to influence her funding votes.
Unfortunately though, Board decisions did not always go her way. Funding for an annual trip for foster youth and their parents to Idlewild Park was pulled. It left her feeling sad and frustrated. Eventually, the trip was brought back with discounted tickets for participants. Wontroba saw foster parents come and go with various funding requests.
One foster mother, in particular, was there asking for funds for dance lessons for a child in her care. Foster care subsidy is a very small amount, usually barely covering basic needs. Children can often learn and grow exponentially from extracurricular activities. While it broke her heart when funds were denied, she knew sometimes tough decisions were necessary.
“I love the board and everything it stands for,” Wontroba said. “CYS is an organization that has changed my life for the better, and I will always be involved in different ways.”
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