Yalanis Vélez was born and raised in the West side of the Archipelago of Puerto Rico. They entered foster care at 16 and aged out in 2020 after spending 5 years in 6 different placements. Throughout life's uncertainty, Yalanis has latched on to learning environments and meaningful connections for survival and readiness. While in care, they focused on graduating high-school and completing their Bachelor’s in Psychology from University of Puerto Rico of Mayagüez. As an undergraduate student at 17 years old, Yalanis pioneered foster youth advocacy in Puerto Rico. Without understanding advocacy, the system or their own living situation, Yalanis asked questions and proposed practical ideas aimed at improving the way their caregivers and child welfare workers managed the processes necessary for themselves and their peers to have a healthy development. They wrote a proposal to the Independent Living Service (ILS) Program in PR for a field day event that brought together all program’s participants in the Island for a series of sports games. This event is still held annually by the ILS in Puerto Rico today. They also paved the way for small changes in partnerships and the use of resources of the ILS Program in their local region. Yalanis was able to graduate in 2021, shortly after aging out, with an understanding of the value of policy, design, equity, community, adaptive thinking and self-awareness for success and happiness.
Yalanis has participated in leadership and advocacy programs inside and outside the Island, and worked with different nonprofits and private entities to advance their personal mission of social justice. They truly believe in the scalability and power of individual growth, that’s why their main goal is to help individuals improve how they interact with themselves, others and their environment. Most recently, Yalanis founded a nonprofit called OverComing Adversities that accompanies and prepares foster youth in Puerto Rico so they have the tools they need to learn to navigate their circumstances, break through poverty cycles and have life satisfaction. Growing up on a colonized Island, Yalanis has also experienced how discriminatory policies and laws impact their community’s well-being. Yalanis’ focus on human development and learning, is deeply informed by their vision of a world where people, communities, private entities, and governments are prepared and want to work together to solve problems and achieve geopolitical dynamics that embrace diversity, promote equity, and a healthy planet.
Through different types of advocacy and direct service, Yalanis has found ways to leverage their personal experiences, including foster care, homelessness, and a colonial framework to shape their professional career and lifestyle. Today, they are proud to be the first National Foster Care Youth & Alumni Policy Council member from any one of the five US territories, Guam, Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, Northern Mariana Islands or American Samoa. Yalanis is an overall active person, with many passions. They frequently enjoy nature through hiking, camping, snorkeling, exercising, and spending time with their friends, sisters and their dog, Mare. Several books have changed their life and are definitely worth sharing: Rich Dad Poor Dad, The Courage to be Disliked, Do the Work, and Animal Farm. They also recommend checking out Lex Fridman’s podcast to learn more about current topics and non-toxic ways to discuss controversial themes and issues.