The Sauer Family Foundation seeks opportunities to increase public awareness of the foster care experience. We are grateful to Donovan Holmes (he/him/she/her) for joining us in recognizing National Foster Care Month by sharing his life journey which has intersected our foster care system and so much more.
My name is Donovan Holmes and I’m a two-spirit Ojibwe community organizer. I’m 22 years old, a student at Augsburg University and I work within the Native American community here in Minneapolis, and with the foster youth community as well.
My story starts when I was taken from my mother at the age of 2 and introduced to the foster care system. Growing up as a ward of the state meant that I had no sense of normalcy, which is the story that many indigenous youth in America face. I had no nuclear family, and it wasn’t until nearly 2 decades later that I repaired my relationships with my parents and family.
Thankfully, I was placed in kinship care due to the Indian Child Welfare Act that prevented me from being adopted out to strangers, and possibly alienated from my culture.
Growing up I had a feeling that I was meant to be bigger than what I was, perhaps it was the fact that few people believed in me and I was a stubborn individual that nurtured this idea in me. I had all kinds of obstacles keeping me from succeeding. I grew up in poverty, my family faced chronic alcoholism, substance abuse and I was almost expected to fall into their footsteps. It wasn’t until I was nearly 18 had my community found me.
I found myself seeking support from Division of Indian Work, an indigenous nonprofit organization, and utilizing those supports to the best of my ability. I built myself from the ground up and successfully broke the cycle of generational poverty and trauma. I got a job with Division of Indian Work. It wasn’t my first job, but it was the first one I had that fully utilized my sense of leadership and resiliency that I gained from working with young activists like myself to undo the harm that the system placed on us. I was given this job not because I had a high school diploma (I didn’t) or a bachelor’s degree; I was given the job based on merit, and those at Division of Indian Work that understood that I was on a non-conventional path to success.
I was 21 when I got my GED and the very next week I was accepted into Augsburg University for the fall semester of 2022. I wouldn’t have considered college if it weren’t for the support of my youth worker at Division of Indian Work and a professor at Augsburg who previously connected with me about teaching a class of his for a day.
When I found out about the Fostering Independence Grant, that changed everything for me. Suddenly college didn’t seem so impossible, and in fact it became almost too easy! I started looking at university applications the day I found out. I was accepted based on merit thanks to Tim Pippert at Augsburg. I was afraid at first, and intimidated by the prospect of going to college.
I wasn’t insecure about my intelligence by any means, and knew I would graduate. That wasn’t a matter of debate, but finding support and a sense of community was.
Tim Pippert introduced me to the Augsburg Family Scholars, a program at Augsburg to assist and support former and current foster youth that attended Augsburg. It was extremely helpful to know that there were others like me on campus, that I wasn’t the only one that understood what being in foster care meant. Tim is my faculty advisor now since I’m pursuing a degree in sociology, which seemed fitting considering the work I’d done as a young activist and advocate for indigenous rights, transgender rights and foster care rights. He and the program have been extremely helpful with understanding how the Fostering Independence Grant worked, where I could seek support and even provide financial support from time to time.
As of writing this, I’ve finished my first year of college and I’m confident about graduating in 2026 thanks to the community that stands behind me. I know many people who would credit my success to me alone, but I believe that I wouldn’t have found the ambition to get where I am today without the support of my family, friends and community.
As they say, it takes a village to raise a child.