Youth Changemaker: Sixto Cancel
-The Campaign for a Presidential Youth Council
Sixto Cancel grew up in Connecticut in several foster homes. Despite his challenges in unstable families, Sixto graduated high school and entered Virginia Commonwealth University in 2011.
Changemaking came early to Sixto. As a sophomore in high school, he was involved in a local Youth Board and noticed that, like himself, his peers in foster care were struggling with the SATs. So, he launched a project called Stellar Works, which offered afterschool tutoring and transportation for high school students with a history of foster care involvement. He convinced numerous teachers at the charter school he attended to volunteer to be tutors and mentors to these students.
It wasn’t long before he noticed that many of his peers didn’t just need help with the SATs but also with basic skills like math and reading. And he knew that this wasn’t just a problem in his town—youth in foster care all over the state were struggling to get the educational supports they needed.
With the support of the youth board, Sixto approached lawmakers for the state of Connecticut and made the case for expanding the budget to build out his program and hire teachers trained to provide remedial supports. And he got it. With $17,500 from Connecticut and an additional $5,000 from a private donor, they were able to provide essential tutoring for youth in need for the next two years.
Since forming Stellar Works, Sixto has busied himself with numerous leadership and policymaking opportunities, including getting involved with national advocacy and advisory organizations that give youth in foster care a voice. His primary goal has been extending the duration and quality of foster care supports to youth.
Uniting Siblings in Care
As a Young Fellow at the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative, an organization working to improve the foster care system, Sixto has had the opportunity to participate in national conversations on how to improve outcomes for youth who leave foster care, including assisting in the Success Beyond 18 campaign—a national campaign calling on states to make sustainable reforms to foster care that support youth aging out of the system.
He also was a part of a large youth-led campaign in for the Siblings Bill in Connecticut and other New England states. The bill was passed in 2012, giving young people in foster care the right to visit their siblings. Read his testimony here.
Sixto continues his advocacy as a member of the National Foster Care and Alumni Policy Council, where he offers policy recommendations and a youth perspective to George Sheldon, the Acting Assistant Secretary for the Administration for Children and Families. Every six months, the Council meets with federal bureaus including the White House and SAMHSA to give policy recommendations on foster care policy and specific issues the young members care about and have faced, including sex trafficking.
“It’s an honor to represent young people in foster care on the national level and share my story and also represent the hundreds of other young people in foster care,” says Sixto. “It’s also a lot of weight to be the representative of my peers. But if you present an issue the right way, you can change the whole dynamic of an issue.”
Duffels Not Trash Bags for Youth
In 2013, Sixto went grassroots. With the youth advocacy powerhouse DoSomething, he launched a petition calling on the Connecticut Department of Children and families to break the tradition of giving foster youth who have aged out of the system a garbage bag for their belongings—and to instead give them duffel bags.
“It’s hard enough to lose a parent, friends or a home,” Sixto said in his petition, “but when my belongings were thrown into a trash bag, I’d lost my dignity. No child or young person deserves to feel this way.”
The petition garnered over 10,000 signatures. During the process the youth learned that Connecticut actually had a policy in place to provide duffel bags instead of garbage bags but was not following it.
A “Youth Life Coach” Video Library
Sixto is also the founder of Think of Us, a Commitment of Action for the Clinton Global Initiative America. Think of Us is dedicated to creating an online library of videos that will coach youth through their experiences in youth serving systems, among other social impact consulting work. The videos will bring together voices of youth in or formerly involved with foster care, social workers, probation officers and even parents who have given up children to foster care.
Combining learning sciences, real-life stories and how-to videos, Sixto hopes to provide a unique and comprehensive virtual collection of lessons on everything from how to fix a broken car part to how to transfer out of the juvenile justice system and getting started in earning a college degree online.
Sixto describes his social mission as one thing: “to help vulnerable youth become the best person that they can be.”
A Champion of Youth Engagement in Policymaking
“Young people are told that the sky is the limit, but not everyone has the same opportunities,” he says. “Policy and legations dictate the lives of all youth but especially vulnerable youth like youth in foster care and in juvenile justice system. It is our responsibility as an invisible population to be the voice for venerable youth so that we keep the moral principles that this country was made alive.”
“We need a Presidential Youth Council so that influencers could better understand us, serve us and to co-create opportunities for all Americans to reach the American dream through an adult-youth partnership,” he adds.
“I am shocked and honored to be named a Top 24 Under 24 Youth Changemaker. It makes me feel even more responsible to my calling. Being a Changemaker has everything to do with the whole network of people who I have worked with over the years to improve the lives of youth who have had similar traumatic experiences like me. No one person has the ability to change everything about a social issue—but together we have the ability create lasting positive impact.”