A crowd of approximately 300 guests gathered for the Ninth Annual Children’s Rights Benefit on Wednesday, October 29, to honor several extraordinary individuals whose efforts have made a difference for children in foster care, and to raise awareness and support for the national advocacy organization’s tireless work to bring sustainable change to failing child welfare systems across the country.
“We see these kids as our children,” Sandy Santana, interim executive director of Children’s Rights, told the crowd gathered at the Lighthouse at Chelsea Piers in Manhattan. “Think of the rejection, abandonment and fear a 7-year old child feels when he hears a knock on the door and is taken away from his parents … imagine that that 7-year-old never finds a forever family, turns 18 and has to face the world homeless and alone.”
Keynote speaker Crystal Bentley gave a gripping account of her experience in foster care and eventual road to success.
“In some homes, I was beaten or verbally abused by the foster parents. In others, I was molested by their children,” she bravely began. “When I aged out of foster care, I was lured into the life of prostitution….this happens to so many young women right under our noses.”
Bentley described an arduous path to rebuilding her life, which brought the crowd to tears and inspired a standing ovation. “My past is the best fuel to drive me forward, and I look at it from a different perspective: I am no longer a victim.”
Children’s Rights was incredibly proud to honor human rights activist Molly Gochman, Grammy Award-winning artist Shaffer “Ne-Yo” Smith, and Jared Bobrow of Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP, with a Children’s Rights Champion Award for their outstanding commitment to improving the lives of children in foster care.
Gochman spoke out on the issue of human trafficking: “We must reform foster care to deter sex trafficking…When you think of the hundreds of thousands of children at risk of being sexually exploited it seems insurmountable, but once you break it down you realize it isn’t. Real change is being made, and it’s gratifying to know it’s being made by so many in this room tonight.”
Other notable attendees included producer Kasseem ‘Swizz Beatz’ Dean, CNN’s Michaela Periera, former CEO of Ford Models Katie Ford and Edgar Carranza, a featured speaker and former foster youth.
This year’s benefit raised approximately $700,000 in support of CR’s continued efforts to expose and repair dangerous child welfare systems in key states where thousands of lives are at stake.
“I’ve always felt like circumstance should never be something that stands in the way,” said Shaffer “Ne-Yo” Smith, singer-songwriter and founder of the Compound Foundation. “Where you come from and where you wind up don’t have anything to do with each other.”
CNN’s Michaela Pereira, one of five adopted children, shared her story with the crowd. “We were the lucky ones,” she said. “I will spend the rest of my life trying to repay this debt…If I can reach one kid to make sure that they feel like they are heard, then I can sleep at night.”