Polk State Chain of Lakes Collegiate High School student Victor Sims has just returned from Washington, D.C., where he shared with lawmakers his experiences — the good and the bad — of growing up in Florida’s foster care system.
Sims, 18, graduated from Chain of Lakes on Saturday. In early May, he graduated from Polk State with his Associate in Arts degree.
His educational achievements helped him to receive the 2013 FosterClub Outstanding Young Leader award.
FosterClub is a national network for those served by foster care. Each year, the Oregon-based organization selects 100 recipients for its Outstanding Young Leader award. The award recognizes young people who have persevered in difficult circumstances and are redefining what is possible of foster children.
Sims learned he’d been selected as a 2013 recipient in January. The award came with his weeklong trip to Washington, D.C., during National Foster Care Month.
Sims entered foster care in 1996, when he was just three months old, because of violence in his home, he said.
His time in foster care can be measured in years — 11 — as well as families — eight.
“The hardest part was when the families didn’t adopt me,” said Sims, a Winter Haven resident. “I had this sense that I had done something wrong.”
When he was 11, Sims went to live with Violet and Ron Sims. It would prove to be his last foster-care move; Violet and Ron legally adopted Victor in 2007. Including Sims’ biological sister Victoria, adopted in 2004, the couple has a total of seven adopted children.
As he grew older and settled in with his new family, Sims began to see what he’d gained along his 11-year foster care journey.
“I think God gave me all the families for a reason,” he said. “One family taught me that attendance in school was important. Another family encouraged high grades. I never missed another day of school, and my grades went from C’s to A’s.”
Sims also earned induction into the National Honor Society and served in the Student Government Association at Polk State. He’s a member of the Marine Corps JROTC, and has volunteered his efforts for Habitat for Humanity, Operation Christmas Child, Samaritan’s Purse, as well as a childhood cancer benefit concert. He’s also a manager at a McDonald’s restaurant.
While in Washington, D.C., Sims shared his story with members of congress and representatives from the Department of Education. He encouraged lawmakers to find a way to allow foster children to continue at the same school even after their address changes. He also asked that more financial assistance be made available to foster children so they can pursue higher education.
“I will be speaking at conferences throughout the state to political officials, foster kids, foster parents and potential foster parents,” Sims said.
“I also want to adopt kids one day.”
Polk State College operates three public charter high schools, including Polk State Chain of Lakes Collegiate in Winter Haven, Polk State Lakeland Gateway to College Collegiate, and Polk State Lakeland Collegiate. All three high schools allow students to fulfill requirements for their diplomas while also earning college credits.