March 21, 2022

Winning Life’s Lotto with Ryan Willett, PFC Board Chair

I don’t know if I believe in love at first sight, but that’s definitely what I felt when I was first introduced to Partnerships for Children back in 2015.  As a volunteer with the Travis County Sheriff's Office, I was chosen to serve as the charity liaison for the annual Battle of the Badges event, for which PFC was the designated charity beneficiary. 

I remember walking into my first PFC Board meeting and being introduced to a group of amazing people who were passionate about helping children, and I knew immediately that this was something I wanted to be a part of.  I was put up for adoption at birth, and I was extremely fortunate to be adopted as a baby by an incredible family that changed my life.  I tell everyone that I hit the Adoption Lottery, and it couldn’t be more true!

“I tell everyone that I hit the Adoption Lottery, and it couldn't be more true!”

Ryan Willett

I also know that if I hadn’t been adopted at such a young age, I would be a different person, and who knows where or who I’d be right now, but I’m fairly certain that I wouldn’t be writing this story.  This is one of the many reasons that PFC is so near and dear to my heart, because I know that many children aren’t afforded the same opportunities that I had, as many don’t get adopted until a much older age, and some don’t ever get adopted at all.

I jumped at the chance to join the PFC Board after the Battle of the Badges and was immediately drawn to the Youth Empowerment and Success (YES) Mentoring program, which is aimed at helping older children who are close to aging out of the child welfare system.  There are approximately 8,625 youth between the ages of 14-18 in Child Protective Services in Texas, and roughly 1,200 youth in Texas age out of the child welfare system each year.  The YES program provides classes to help teach these children  life lessons that most of us took for granted growing up, whether it’s how to apply for a job, apartment, or credit card, or other basic “adulting” like how to file taxes, and then matches these children with an adult member in the community that can help guide them into adulthood and be there for them when they have more questions, or just need guidance.

While attending these classes with a new group of teenage mentees, I was impressed with their passion for life, and their ability to stay positive despite the adversity they faced growing up in the child welfare system.  They came to each class with a desire to learn, and were more than happy to share their goals and dreams, which were inspiring to hear.  Just as I hit the Adoption Lottery as a baby, luck struck again when I was matched with an incredible mentee who I am proud to say has grown into a wonderful adult, and is now married with a beautiful baby girl!

It took some time, but I slowly realized that while I was supposed to be serving as a mentor through the YES program, I think I learned more about life just watching and listening to the mentees than they did.  They inspired me to get even more involved with PFC, and led me to joining the Executive Committee, and now I am honored to serve as Board Chair this year.

This is a special time for PFC, as we are celebrating our 18th anniversary this year, so you could say we’re graduating and entering adulthood as an organization.  It’s also somewhat bittersweet, though, as our long-time Executive Director, Kori Gough, has announced her retirement, and we have begun the difficult task of searching for her replacement.  Whoever hits the Non-Profit Lottery and is lucky enough to be our new ED will have huge shoes to fill, as Kori has been instrumental in the success of PFC over the last decade.  Her passion for PFC is unmatched, and it shows in the work she does every day to advocate for children.  Our mission is “to make tomorrow better than today by supporting and empowering children, youth, and families involved with CPS”, and Kori has certainly made countless tomorrows better throughout her PFC tenure.

“ you could say we're graduating and entering adulthood as an organization.”

Ryan Willett

The next chapter of PFC has yet to be written, but I am confident with the foundation that has been built over the past 18 years, that the future is bright, and I’m excited to see what is in store for the next 18 years!