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