Before Edwyn Shoemaker became an active student leader and political intern, he was a foster child. An absent father and troubled mother landed him in the state system at nine where he cycled through many homes, organizations and times of homelessness. He hit a turning point at 18 when he “aged out” of the foster system and lost the bit of support he’d had. His already difficult life became dangerous.
“I was getting in trouble, going in the wrong direction,” says Shoemaker. “I had to take control of my life. Otherwise there were only two futures—I’d end up either dead or in jail. College was the one ticket out.”
Shoemaker began his first stretch of formal education in several years at Middlesex Community College (MCC). It wasn't an immediate success. Shoemaker was working up to three jobs and sleeping on park benches when not working or in class. He struggled until he found the TRIO program, which supports low-income students at the college.
“That was the difference,” he says. “I don’t think I could have made it without it. They advise you, encourage you, support you every step of the way. They just won’t let you fail.”
Back on track, Shoemaker graduated in 2010 and was chosen as a “fellow” in MCC’s Paul Sullivan Leadership Institute. Shoemaker gave a speech at an end-of-the-year event, sharing his story with the audience, which included Chancellor Marty Meehan. When Meehan heard that Shoemaker wanted to study political science, he encouraged him to apply to the university.
At the university, Shoemaker traveled with the International Relations Club, completed an internship in Washington D.C. and developed opportunities for foster kids just like him.
In D.C., Shoemaker worked with other former foster children and the Coalition on Adoption Institute drafting policy proposals to increase awareness in Congress of the needs of homeless youth. Closer to home, he co-founded the Navigators Club on campus, which is modeled on the TRIO program. The club offers support and services to university students who have been foster children, been without a home or faced other challenges in their path to college. Shoemaker sees this work as a natural, necessary step in his own journey.
“I've walked in the path,” he says. “And when you walk in the path, you stoop down and toss a stone from the path for the next person coming by. Because a stone can trip anyone, even a giant."