Misty Stenslie’s Legacy

Dedication

Misty was a beloved leader who helped launch the foster care alumni movement and the founding of Foster Care Alumni of America in 2004. For six years she served as a Director before retiring due to illness. She was courageous and led us all to dream big and to raise our voices for change. Misty left her mark on the world and on the foster care community. This page is dedicated to Misty, in the hope that her spirit and legacy will continue to live on through each one of us.

Lifetime Achievement Award

On October 23, 2016, on behalf of the late Misty Stenslie Claassen, Angela Cross accepted the Thomas F. Tonniges, MD, FAAP Lifetime Achievement Award for Advocacy on Behalf of Vulnerable Children.

 

Misty’s Story In Her Own Words

Prior to Misty’s untimely passing the American Academy of Pediatrics invited her to share her story during a live event. We have preserved this video so that you can view Misty’s story in her own words.

Misty’s Journey

Misty was an incredibly resilient survivor, who let the hardships she dealt with in childhood shape her into a wise, brave, and loving adult. She was born December 8, 1972, and she spent much of her childhood in foster care, kinship care, shelters, and group homes. In her teen years she lived life as a runaway, as a ward of the juvenile justice system in detention, hospitals, and state reform school.

In a letter to her friends, Misty explained some of the things that helped her find her way as a young person. “Along the way, my excellent taste in people allowed me to recruit friends, staff members, and other mentors to tether me to my very uncertain and frightening world, finding the beauty that I had been missing. At 16, I entered my final foster home with the Stenslie’s, whose last name I eventually legally claimed. They taught me that I could be my own boss and advocate. They opened my eyes to the idea of college and an entirely different kind of adulthood than I had ever envisioned before them. Their three adult children claimed me and have continued to be very important to me over the years. They helped me figure out how to have genuine relationships…”

As an adult, Misty used her life experiences to inform her work and create her own family. She earned a Master’s degree in social work and worked in child protection, clinical social work, as a nationally-known trainer, and a foster care advocate for more than 20 years. She also served as a licensed foster parent, maintaining a lifelong bond of love and commitment with her three (now adult) foster children. Misty’s family included a large community of alumni brothers and sisters, very close friends, and her beloved husband Jay.

Misty was known for her wisdom, sense of humor, and genuine authenticity. By her own account, Misty had a happy adult life, filled with many loving relationships and satisfying work. After a painful six-year battle with tick-borne diseases and early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, Misty died peacefully at her home on Saturday, April 30, 2016. She will be greatly missed.

Misty’s Beliefs

Misty was a source of inspiration for so many. She firmly believed in alumni leadership and advocacy. She believed in the power of alumni to unite and make a difference. Misty was able to galvanize others around the belief that their voice mattered, and empowered alumni across the country to have a seat at the table and use their voice for change.

Most of all, Misty was a huge source of support and encouragement for alumni. She was a friend and confidant. She made so many of us feel valued and loved. Misty bravely and intimately connected with so many people and individually mentored hundreds of foster care alumni. Through her work and personal commitment to lift others up, Misty helped to create a community where thousands of people from foster care across the country could finally claim they belonged to the alumni family.

Historical Timeline of Misty’s work with FCAA

In Honor of Misty

Misty and her husband Jay requested that donations in Misty’s honor be made to Foster Care Alumni of America. You can help us continue Misty’s legacy by donating to FCAA by clicking the link below:

Leave a Message

Tell us about a favorite memory, her impact on your life, or what inspired you most about Misty.

6 Comments
  • Chauncey Strong
    Posted at 18:23h, 08 March Reply

    You were on my mind a lot today Misty. I just wanted you to know we will never forget you. You will always be apart of FCAA!!!

  • BilliJo House
    Posted at 00:02h, 24 October Reply

    I am Misty’s sister, we share the same parents. I was 10 or 11 years old when Misty left home for the last time. The last time I had the opportunity to see her was 20+ years ago. I never had the opportunity to really get to know my sister. I know that the stories of how she has helped so many people in similar circumstances are inspiring. I am grateful that Misty was able to find love and show love to so many despite the terrible things that happened to her. I miss her and I always wanted to get reacquainted, Now I need to wait until I see her in Heaven. Misty I love you. Thank you to everyone that took care of her and help keep her safe.

  • Shawn M. Huff
    Posted at 02:09h, 25 July Reply

    Misty,

    Thank you for your faith in me. For being the champion of the foster care alumni movement and most importantly, being a wonderful friend who inspired so so many. Your legacy will forever live in my heart! ????

  • Jay Claassen
    Posted at 20:06h, 12 June Reply

    Em (Misty) was my perfect wife. She was kind, beautiful, happy, peaceful, smart, funny, faithful, and more courageous than anyone I have ever met.
    We laughed when we would hear how tough marriage was; it wasn’t for us; it was easy and great every day. We loved being together.
    Even after 12 years together, my heart would still jump when she was calling / texting, if we were apart.
    She touched thousands of lives with her work; I am so proud of her; she was loved by so many.
    Fortunately, I got to marry her. She defined my adult life. She was the love of my life and the best friend I ever had. I will think about her and miss her every day of my life.
    -Jay (Her Husband)

    • Della
      Posted at 04:16h, 25 October Reply

      That was so beautiful to read. I am so sorry for your lost.

  • Mary Crane
    Posted at 15:25h, 27 May Reply

    I staff the foster care group at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Misty was the liaison from FCAA to the American Academy of Pediatrics Task Force on Foster Care from its inception in 2007 until she was no longer able to attend due to her illness in 2010. She was Amazing. She was deeply admired and respected by all of the pediatricians on the task force as well as the AAP staff members who attended. She also served on a youth panel for our 2009 Peds-21 conference on foster care which is the Academy’s premier conference on important topics for pediatrics in the 21st century. We had 800 pediatricians attend that conference. It remains one of the highest-rated Peds21 conferences we’ve had! Afterwards people came up saying that it reminded them of why they went into medicine to begin with. Others committed to changing their practices to serve youth in foster care! All were made deeply aware of the unmet health (including trauma and mental health) needs of the youth in foster care. She really made an impact!

    At the task force meetings, she served as the voice of youth in care. Wow, what a voice! Prior to Misty, our group hadn’t had the voice of youth present in the room during our discussions about how to address the needs of youth in care via policies, advocacy, education and programmatic work. She was a powerful and effective advocate for youth in care! Often she would just add a sentence or two to the discussion that was so powerful it would leave a resounding silence afterwards while everyone took in the implications of what she had just said. She brought a professionalism steeped in personal experience that was an unbeatable combination.

    She often told us that we were her favorite group to work with, but I’m now learning that she probably said that to everyone and really meant it! We certainly felt special and fortunate to have her as part of our group. And fun! What fun she was. When the work of the day was done and it was time to go for dinner and relaxation – wow. Her smile, humor and good nature lit up a room. She was like a magnet – everyone wanted to sit near Misty.

    I just wanted to let FCAA know what an impactful ambassador Misty was on behalf of FCAA to the AAP. Thank you for sharing Misty with us! We were truly honored to call her colleague.

    On a personal note, Misty was very helpful and reassuring to me during some difficult days when I was a foster parent. Her counsel and wisdom helped to sustain me. I will be forever grateful to her for that. As with everyone else, I will truly miss her.

    And as with everyone else, I admired Misty so much. Despite an early life that might have destroyed the spirit of most of us, she was indomitable. A light you can’t extinguish. Love too strong to break. I believe she lives on in those she loved and touched. I have her picture hanging at my desk and every time I look at her I recommit to being the best me I can be. I’ll never be a Misty, but she inspires me to be my best self.

    Thanks for the opportunity to share memories, thoughts and feelings about our amazing friend Misty!

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