NORFOLK, Va. - Old Dominion University freshman Melvin Roy is using his past for a purpose.
Roy, who spent his high school years foster care in the Richmond area, created an on-campus organization aimed at providing resources and support for other teenagers who know what it's like to grow up in the system.
"I wanted to help others in foster care ages 14 to 18. Just help them see that there is life after high school," said Roy. "There's a gospel song. It talks about 'trouble doesn't last always'."
Roy said Foster-U is gearing up to do workshops, mentoring and community service with foster youth in the Hampton Roads area. He said the group's mission is to offer hope to those trying to navigate a difficult time.
"It was hard at first to kind of see that this wasn't going to be the end of my life," he said of his first time in foster care. "Once I started telling myself, 'You're going to graduate soon. You're going to go to college, and you're going to do great things in life,' that's when it kind of became easier."
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, there are more than 440,000 children and youth in foster care in the United States.
"It's definitely hard. It's not easy taking a child into your home," said Roy. "While not every experience turned out to be the best, it was definitely worth noting that these people tried."
Jewel Cooper, the regional director for United Methodist Family Services, said they need more people to step up and become foster parents.
"We definitely need foster parents who are interested in older children, and when we say older, we mean age 12 and up," explained Cooper. "It is a way to give back to the community, and you receive so much from being able to pour into a child's life. You're able to help them heal from past trauma."
Roy said he landed in foster care during his freshman year in high school after suffering abuse and neglect at the hands of a family member. He lived with four foster families before graduating from high school.
"Every family taught me something different," he said. "I will carry those experiences with me for the rest of my life."