WESTBOROUGH, Mass. — Gov. Deval Patrick spoke about growing up in poverty on the South Side of Chicago in an address on foster care Thursday at the Department of Children and Families' Second Annual Youth Summit.
His family relied on welfare, and while he loved to read, he didn't own a book until he moved to Milton, Mass., when he was 14, Patrick told the gathering at Westborough's DoubleTree Hotel.
The governor encouraged youth in foster care to become leaders, regardless of their background.
"Have your reach exceed your grasp," he said. "We have great expectations of you."
According to DCF, about 100 youth participated in the summit, which offered workshops on financial literacy, higher education programs and healthy living, among others.
Patrick told reporters afterward he wanted to attend the summit as a reminder that foster children are still part of the community, and to thank the young people and adults working with them for their achievements.
Summit participant Natasha Wilson had been in and out of foster care since she was 6. Today, she's a business major at Westfield State University.
"I dealt with two stereotypes growing up. I was in foster care, and I was from Holyoke," she said, referencing the Western Massachusetts city with a rough reputation. "People thought, 'This girl has no future.' "
Wilson said she was grateful for DCF, without which she wouldn't have been able to attend college.
DCF Commissioner Angelo McClain, who was placed in foster care as a youth, said foster children can and do go on to accomplish great things.
"I'm still proud of where I come from. I want you guys to be proud of where you come from," he said. "It isn't a liability. It is a strength."