Not every college student gets to say they work for U.S. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), and has gotten a chance to meet Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) or hear Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) address an audience from several feet away.
But 26-year-old April Barcus is no ordinary college student.
This summer Barcus, a rising senior Political Science major and Legal Studies minor at Rutgers University–Newark, is doing a nine-week Foster Youth Internship with the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI), a nonprofit advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C.
Barcus, who is trans/non-binary and uses the pronouns they/them, was assigned to Hoyer’s office, a stroke of luck that is not lost on them. They’re answering phones, directing constituents to appropriate offices and resources, drafting documents and constituent reports, attending briefings and hearings, and handling mail and flagging requests for staffers as needed.
Barcus has also been writing a policy report about the correlation between disability and foster care, with recommendations on how Congress, the Biden Administration and the private sector can help improve healthcare access and treatment for foster youth with disabilities.
“It has been an absolutely amazing experience,” said Barcus. “This internship is the moment I feel I have finally transcended to the next level in my career.”
Barcus, who is disabled with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, a rare connective-tissue disorder, is also a child of the foster-care system. A native of the Antelope Valley area of Southern California, about an hour north of Los Angeles, they were adopted as a baby but re-entered foster care when they were 12 years old, then spent the next six years in foster care, shuffling between 30 different homes. As a result, Barcus attended 22 high schools, most of them during their junior and senior years, which led to skill and knowledge gaps needed for college.
Barcus nevertheless managed to graduate high school at age 19 with an actual diploma (not a GED), then due to life events and the barriers created by the foster-care system, took the next five years to complete an associates degree in Political Science and Paralegal Studies at College of the Canyons community college, in Santa Clarita, Calif.
If you had told an 18-year-old me that I would be working for the Majority Leader of Congress one day, I would have not believed you.
There, Barcus got heavily involved in campus activities, serving as Public Affairs Officer of the Associated Student Government, a Model U.N. delegate, president of Guardian Scholars, a foster-care support program, and Vice President of the American Native Yonutenen Association. They also received several awards, including FosterClub Outstanding Youth Leader in 2019.
For three years while at College of the Canyons, Barcus also wrote legislation and policy recommendations for California Youth Connection, a youth-led organization advising on and advocating for changes to the state’s foster-care system.
When Barcus transferred to RU-N as a junior in fall 2021, they began volunteering their time, doing federal reform work with the New York/New Jersey chapter of the National Foster Youth Institute, based in Washington, D.C. Barcus has also done consulting work for the U.S. Children’s Bureau, a federal agency under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and has served as Chief of Staff for the RU-N Student Governing Association, all while focusing on a heavy coursework load.
After doing policy and legislation reform for almost 10 years at the state level in California, Barcus moved east to try to branch into national policy and legislation work. They’ve done remarkably well in a very short time. Barcus looks forward to returning to RU-N for their senior year and will apply to the joint Ph.D./J.D. program at Rutgers Law school, with the goal of becoming a civil right attorney focusing on equity-policy work.
“If you had told an 18-year-old me that I would be working for the Majority Leader of Congress one day, I would have not believed you,” said Barcus. “It took a lot of hard work to get here, and my story is a true testament of even when all the odds are stacked against you, you can still be successful.”