top of page

What Is SaySo?

SaySo, Strong Able Youth Speaking Out, is a statewide association of youth aged 14 to 24 who are or have been in the out-of-home care system that is based in North Carolina. This includes all types of substitute care, including foster care, group homes, and mental health placements.

Founded in 1998 by a stakeholder group of older youths in care, adult caregivers, and adult professionals, SaySo has been recognized with respect in North Carolina and nationally as a youth driven advocacy organization. Our founding members felt youths needed to be more involved in advocating and policy development for young people in substitute care.

In 2002, with the support of the Fenwick Foundation, SaySo became an incorporated, private, non-profit organization with approved 501c3 status. (A copy of our IRS status can provided as needed.)

SaySo Mission and Belief Statement

The Mission of SaySo is:

"to work to improve the substitute care system by educating the community, speaking out about needed changes, and providing support to youth who are or have been in substitute care."

All SaySo activities, whether at the state or local chapter levels, support this mission statement which was written in 1998, the year SaySo was founded.

The following Belief Statement was written in 1998 by Keisha, one of our founding members. Keisha compiled all the ideas of the founding members into this one statement. The SaySo Organization continues to uphold these beliefs today.

"We, strong able youth, believe in educating the community about needed changes in the foster care system. As strong able youth, we believe the voices of youth matter. So it is time to listen. We believe that if provided adequate materials we can achieve anything. As strong able youth, we uphold the idea that by expressing ourselves verbally, we are informing others of real life situations that may give a new meaning to life. We believe we have the right to be treated equally and fair and that our voices can make a big difference. We proclaim the love of children as being a primary factor for SaySo's continued existence. As youth, we believe we should have a right to better health care and easy access of monies for our needs. We hold the expectation that every board member is a unique individual, who can and will learn. Provided with a sufficient amount of time, effective teaching and a positive learning environment we will accomplish our goals."

SaySo History and Timeline

July 9, 1997: Discussions begin

ILR met staff from the Child Advocacy Institute (CAI - now known as Action for Children) at a state sponsored meeting. Nancy Carter from ILR mentioned that if any organization needed youths to speak at their functions to call ILR. Michelle Hughes from the CAI called. CAI had received a Kellogg grant to start a youth advocacy organization. CAI needed access to interested youths. ILR had been using youth speakers at Youth Days Summer Conferences who were already speaking out about changes needed for foster children.

March 4, 2000. The first SaySo Conference was held in Burlington, NC.

The SaySo Youth Board of Directors stressed to overwhelming group (this time, more youths than adults) that SaySo is focused on learning to speak out constructively about the needs in the foster care system. Youth have continued to learn to not whine about the problems, but be part of the solution. By doing this, youths learn to speak in a manner that allows others to respect and take SaySo seriously.

April 17, 1998. A joint meeting of state and youth stakeholders was held.

Over 75 people attended the meeting in Burlington, NC. Adults outweighed the number of youths so the group was divided: adults in one room, youths in another to enable a safe environment for youths to speak freely. Youth concluded that a youth advisory organization was needed, however the youths wanted to be more than just an advisory council. The first name for SaySo was COFFEE which stood for Coalition of Friends and Family Educating Everywhere, but later changed to SaySo, Strong Able Youth Speaking Out, which youths felt was more representative of who they are. This began a two year process of establishing the mission, by-laws, belief statement, policies, youth membership criteria, and adult adviser responsibilities to help govern the organization. It was a painstaking process but the founding members stayed focused and established the foundation which still exists today. 

Spring 2000: SaySo Makes a Difference.

The NC Chaffee budget was earmarked to be thrown out of the state budget which meant all independent living activities for NC would cease to exist. A legislative position paper was created to by SaySo to tell the story of why young people in foster care need life skills. The paper spread to legislators by a network of support with the Covenant for NC Children’s and helped to keep this funding active. The Chafee funding continues to keep SaySo and other LINKS project in place. 

March 2003: SaySo becomes a non-profit organization with the support of the Fenwick Foundation.

Frank Phoenix of the foundation becomes known as the "Grandfather of SaySo ". The Fenwick Foundation continues to sponsor lunch at the SaySo Saturday Annual Conferences and dinner at the Board of Directors Orientation.  

SaySo Accomplishments 


Presented at the annual NC Statewide Children's Conferences
Presented at the NCFPA statewide conferences
Presents annually at the National Independent Living Conference
Participates in Court Improvement Program conferences and seminars
Participated in NC GAL statewide conferences and trainings
Sponsored the 2002 National Advocacy in Action Conference

Trains 13-15 year old foster youths at annual NC LINK-Up conferences statewide
Participated at the IL National Leadership Conference
Speaks annually at all youth conference sponsored by the NCLINKS program
Coordinates annual SaySo Saturday conferences for 200+ foster youths
Keynote speech at statewide Adoption Celebration 2002

Meetings & Training's

Participates in continuing education training for Family Court Judges
Assists with MAPP training for Foster Parents
Spoke at Adoption/Abandonment meetings in Greensboro.
Participates in annual attorney and social worker training at UNC-CH
Participate in trainings with the Center For Family and Community Engagement


Provides articles and book reviews for Fostering Perspectives
Wrote a PR campaign on NBC-17 (Superbowl Sunday) to recruit foster families for teens
Contributed towards Advocates for Children Services brochures on  Rights/Responsibilities of Foster Youth and Independent Living
Developed a youth friendly CFT brochure for the Center For Family and Community Engagement
Did an ad on TV, posters, radio announcements to recruit foster and adoptive parents (Charlotte)
Believe in a Child ad on TV, posters, radio announcements to recruit foster homes for teens(Raleigh)
Publish 6 annual newsletters (archived) for members and supporters
Became the March 2004, Everyday Hero for Fostering Families magazine
Developed a SaySo presentation format for members to use at speaking engagements

Contribution to others

Contributed to the formation of the National Alumni Network(NAN)
Contribution to Social Services for Pregnant and Parenting Teens
Provided information on health issues related to foster teens
A sponsor for Child Abuse Vigil
Contributed to the SE IL Curriculum Advisory Board

SaySo in Government

Wrote a letter/met with Gov. Hunt
Met with Hillary Clinton in Washington, DC
Initiated a week for members to participate in the House, Senate and Governor's page programs (Annually since 2005)

Other Accomplishments

Coordinating a statewide Make a Difference Day Project for all foster children (Annually since 2004)
Provided the award recipients for National Youth of the Year (2002 and 2003) through the NILA
Provides regular speeches at regional adoption celebrations throughout North Carolina
Master of Ceremony for a Youth Fashion Show promoting teen adoptions (Greensboro)
Two Board members elected to the National Independent Living Association (NILA) Board of Directors
Promoted the development of 23 local chapters in NC
Attending school and going to college at record numbers!

Media Involving SaySo Youths

Spectator Magazine Durham
People Magazine, January 2003
Fostering Perspectives (twice annually)
Independent Weekly - Durham
Charlotte Observer
UNC-TV feature on Child Abuse, April 2002
Fayetteville Observer
Burlington Times
Jamestown Press
WRAL For the Children
Raleigh News & Observer
NBC-17 Eastern NC
Fostering Families Magazine
Carolina Youth Alliance

Personal SaySo Member Accomplishments

Julia C. - 2006 Foster Club All Stars
Makeisha W. - 2005 National Youth of the Year
Melinda M. - 2003 National Youth of the Year
De'Von M. - 2002 National Youth of the Year

bottom of page