—Withelma “T” Ortiz Walker Pettigrew
By the time Withelma, the daughter of drug-addicted parents, was 18 years old she had lived in 14 different foster homes. (Children in foster care are regular children who, through no fault of their own, had to be removed from their families due to abusive or neglectful situations.) As a teenager she had met a man who promised her a better life. Instead, her world became as nightmare as she was enslaved in the dark world of human trafficking.
Withelma’s nickname, “T”, stands (very appropriately) for “tenacity," a trait that has enabled her keep going and ultimately overcome adversity. Eventually she was able to seek help and build a new life. As a determined survivor of horrifying abuse and neglect, she has courageously shared her story to help others, turning personal tragedy into something positive.
Now in her mid-twenties, Withelma is a college student in Washington, D.C., studying communications and political science. As a nationally recognized advocate who works tirelessly to help children, she fights to end domestic child trafficking and reform the child welfare, juvenile justice and mental health systems, which are designed to protect children in the U.S. She has testified before members of congress and appeared at forums at the White House and the U.S. Department of Justice. In fact, her efforts resulted in the first-ever U.S. government funding proposal to combat human trafficking!
In addition, Withelma is a leader with Human Rights Project for Girls, an organization focused on gender-based violence and its impact on vulnerable young women and girls in the U.S, and also serves as a member of The National Foster Care Youth and Alumni Policy Council. She has earned too many honors and accolades to list here, but Glamour magazine honored her tireless advocacy for children by naming her as one of its 2011 Women of the Year.
"If it wasn't for a few key people in my life believing that I wasn't a lost cause, advocating for me, and meeting me where I was at I wouldn't be here today," she says.
Having someone to turn to for help--no matter what--is incredibly important for all of us. Who is that special person in your life?
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