Trauma does not define a person. Nor does a stereotype, says Butler grad Jarod Wilson ’08, especially one based on an assumption of debilitating trauma. However, Wilson sees certain young people— those who have spent time in foster care—being denied jobs every day because of a hiring manager’s preconceived and negative ideas about them.
He wants to change that dynamic. Last fall, he joined the nonprofit Foster Success as its first-ever Senior Director of Education and Workforce Readiness.
“Many young people in foster care have had trauma, but they aren’t defined by that trauma. They grow with and through the trauma,” Wilson says. “We like to say that so many of them learn and kind of fail forward.”
Wilson dedicates his days to helping others because he knows that one individual can transform lives and communities. So can a university, he says, because Butler certainly transformed him.
Wilson’s upbringing instilled empathy in a boy who would grow up to become committed to a philanthropic life. He grew up in Rockville, Indiana, a small town of about 2,800 residents. His family wasn’t quite middle class; their household income was low enough to qualify him to become a 21st Century Scholar, a program that provides college funds to low-income students.
After graduating high school as one of just 70 seniors, Wilson applied to 15 universities.
“The big schools didn’t feel right. I was afraid I’d get lost in the shuffle. I went to the Butler campus and knew it’s where I wanted to be.”
He pursued a bachelor’s degree in International Studies and minors in French and Peace Studies. He sang in Jordan Jazz and the Butler Chorale, and he embarked on years of volunteer work through service-learning and Butler’s Student Involvement office. He also took advantage of Butler’s study abroad program, spending a summer in France.
The acceptance and support he felt at Butler allowed him to become the person he was supposed to be, he says, and gave him the courage to take one of the biggest steps of his life.
“Helping me to think larger than myself was huge. From a personal level, the friends and supportive faculty and staff there helped me become who I am as an adult. I started to come out when I was at Butler,” he says. “I came to understand who I was as a human.”
Being around other people who were out and proud made Butler feel like home, Wilson says. “They became as much my family as my biological family. Finding that second family makes you feel validated.”
All these Butler-based interactions—finding support as an LGBTQ+ student, making lifelong friends through music, giving back to the community through on- and off-campus volunteer opportunities— led Wilson to another turning point in his life.
“I realized I loved education and working with young people, especially ages 16 to 25. It’s a time when you’re thinking about what your next step in life will be,” he says.
Wilson sought a master’s in higher education and student affairs at IUPUI before taking a full-time position there as coordinator of community service and civic engagement. Ever the volunteer himself, he created opportunities for student volunteers to improve their communities. He then managed volunteer outreach and engagement for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Indiana while earning a certificate in nonprofit/public/organizational management at IUPUI.
His next stop, which he says built on his Butler education and led him to his current position, was at the Indiana Commission for Higher Education (ICHE). He directed postsecondary outreach and engagement statewide.
“It’s through the ICHE that I really got involved in transition education periods (high school to college, college to career),” says Wilson.
Foster Success is the only Indiana non-profit organization supporting 14- to 26-year-olds transitioning out of foster care through financial empowerment, educational success, workforce readiness, and youth engagement. Wilson heads up Workforce Readiness, a program designed to prepare young people who have been in foster care for college or a job.
At the macro level, he is improving communities by educating the public through exposure to these young people. He’s also forestalling generations of homelessness, poverty, and other societal ills that stem from adults without education, hope, or means.
At the micro level, he uses a two-pronged approach: He provides the developmental assets that young people in foster care missed out o —social competencies, positive identity, constructive use of time, etc. But he also does something so time-intensive that no other agency in Indiana does it: He meets personally with employers to educate them about working with young people.
In finding these potential employers, he often turns to other Butler alumni.
“Indianapolis is the littlest big city in the world. I’ve made so many connections with people. If I have a young person who needs help finding a job, I know a Butler grad who can help us find one or make an introduction.”
Wilson sees himself at Foster Success and in Indianapolis for a long time to come.
“My trajectory hasn’t been what I expected when I entered Butler, but it’s probably better than what it would’ve been without what Butler gave me and who I was able to become because of my time there.”