JMU graduate begins career in social work at agency that helped him as a teenager

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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) – While there are many opportunities in Virginia for young people in the foster care system to pursue higher education and earn a college degree, the majority are unlikely to do, but Dennis Villeda is a different story.

As an adopted child, Villeda was in and out of different homes, not knowing what the future held.

“My experience as a foster child was very chaotic in many ways. Just moving around, sort of, my life being up in the air in terms of where I was going to live and of not having parental guidance. Just a little confused and feeling lost at times,” Villeda explained.

At 17, soon out of foster care, Villeda was given the chance to live independently thanks to Impact Living Services. It’s a non-profit organization that helps young adults get on their feet and into the real world.

“Impact was an environment that didn’t make me feel like I was in foster care, like, it didn’t make me feel like a number,” Villeda said.

When Villeda joined Impact, it was clear he was motivated to do something meaningful in his life.

“You could tell he was someone in the right circumstances with the right guidance and the right level of support who would do very well for himself,” said IL program manager Samantha Brooks.

Through hard work and support from Impact, Villeda earned an associate degree at Blue Ridge Community College before earning a bachelor’s degree in social work from JMU. That’s something that a lot of kids who were in foster care don’t achieve.

“It’s actually one percent or less of all young people in the country who are in foster care and have a college education, let alone a four-year degree. So he’s in the one percent club that way,” Brooks said.

And now it’s come full circle as Dennis began his career as a home-based social worker for Impact.

“I just didn’t expect an outpouring of support and someone giving that type of opportunity to an adopted child. It’s just not something I’ve ever heard of and not something. something that I really thought would become a possibility,” Villeda said.

Although the road has not always been easy, Villeda said he was grateful for the support he received from the Impact.

“I’m just grateful and thanking my lucky stars, or whoever it is, that everything in life has led me here, and that’s literally how I feel. Now I understand much better and see everything much more clearly,” Villeda said.

Now he’s looking forward to making his own impact on the next generation.

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