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Paying it forward

Jaquel at graduation
“If you believe it, you can achieve it.”

When Jaquel found the AdoptUSKids website, he knew immediately that he wanted to share his story. “I want to help dispel the myth that youth from foster care can’t be successful,” he says.

Dreams vs. goals

Jaquel speaks with determination as he talks about his two top ambitions—playing for the National Football League and completing his bachelor’s degree. When asked if it has always been his dream to play for his favorite team, the San Francisco 49ers, he replies: “It’s not a dream. It’s a goal.”

Now age 20, Jaquel graduated in May 2014 from California’s College of the Siskiyous with an AA degree in social science and a vocational degree in business. He is continuing his studies at Mayville University in Mayville, North Dakota, where he is pursuing a major in social science.

A talented high school football player, he now plays for the Mayville State Comets, with his eye on 2015 NFL draft opportunities. If drafted, he is determined to complete his college degree through online study.

A challenging road

Jaquel’s journey through foster care was challenging, but a few outstanding people made a difference along the way.

Born in California, Jaquel entered the state’s foster care system at the age of five because his mother was no longer able to care for him. For five years, he lived with two foster parents who influenced him greatly: Cleo and Chester Baldwin. Jaquel speaks of them with love. “They nurtured me and taught me how to be respectful and assertive in life. As parents, they were guided by their Christian faith and operated on principles.” Living with the Baldwins, Jaquel completed elementary school with high grades.

After leaving the Baldwins, Jaquel lived with several foster families, and briefly spent time in a group home. Despite some ups and downs during these years, Jaquel maintained a 3.0 GPA, and became active in track and football. During his senior year of high school in Modesto, California, he was adopted by a friend’s father: Craig Hunnel, a local pastor.

Jaquel says that his adoptive father’s consistent support helped him to graduate from high school. “He provided motivation and positive energy on a daily basis,” Jaquel says.

Speaking out

While continuing with studies and football, Jaquel is also involved in motivational training and pursues opportunities for public speaking—particularly those that allow him to inspire youth in foster care and shape public opinions about them. He would also like to help increase the college graduation rate of youth who have been in foster care, which currently averages 3–10 percent.

Recently, one of Jaquel’s mentors, Don Graves, asked him to address the Contra Costa Independent Living Skills program scholarship awards recognition dinner. During remarks to a large crowd of supporters, Jaquel urged program participants and scholarship recipients to focus on completing both high school and college.

“Belief is strong and can shape your future,” he says. “If you believe it, you can achieve it.”

Advice for youth and prospective adoptive parents

Jaquel also has advice to share both for youth currently in foster care and for individuals considering adopting a child through the foster care system.

For youth: “Even if you are going through negative circumstances, remember that they won’t last forever. Build up your mental fortitude and set goals for who you want to be and where you want to go. And focus on getting your high school diploma at 18—the best is yet to come!”

For prospective adoptive parents:  “You can shape and mold a youth, and both of you will benefit!”