Superhero Melody Centeno, LMSW
It has been proven, Superheroes walk among us. They donned their translucent capes and sleigh the proverbial giant, in her case, in the name of child welfare. She strongly embodies the characteristics of Magneto, moving things with her mind. As creator and founder of Foster Care Unplugged, Melody Centeno develops partnerships as well as create initiatives for youth and foster care. Ms. Centeno works diligently to develop the resiliency of the foster care youth while they navigate their way through the child welfare system. As a former foster child, Ms. Centeno saw all spectrum related to the foster care system and wanted to be an added support to the system. And with this insight, she is working to develop strategies to bridge the community and the child welfare together to support foster care youth.
What started as an awareness campaign birthed an organization that brings awareness to foster care youths who highlighted as being the forgotten population. Melody campaigns to bring cognizance to the more than 10,000 foster care youth in New York alone and the support that is needed for them. She has been doing amazing things within her organization, Foster Care Unplugged, utilizing her Magneto powers to think it and bring it to fruition. One of the most powerful things that she has been doing which deserve more than a highlight is merging her two loves of acting and foster care to change of lives of souls that are most deserving. She developed a program, designed as a play that is interactive therapy on the spot.
The play is written about a foster care youth who is cast in the play; their real-life story is used to inspire the script and bring social awareness. The benefit is seen each time they meet with the kids; whether it’s a crying session or an acting exercise that taps into a real-life experience for them that they get to relive and resolve on the spot. This is a performance-based approach to therapy that allows for a healing transformation through the lens of acting.
To continue amazing programs like this, Melody and her organization looks for funding through networking and alliances which are extremely important. They are the mainstream support for them maintaining their programs and rely heavily on their alliances to get anything done. While many of her funding comes through volunteer and partnerships from people discovering who they are and who want to align themselves with their mission and vision, Ms. Centeno shares that anyone who would like to assist but find themselves too busy; they can do drop-in events where the commitments aren’t as stringent; something like the book bag drive – that’s a one-time event. If it’s the fashion show, that’s just one evening.
The commitment that we ask of all our volunteers and partners; some of them are continuous but a lot of them are really tailored around what is connected to that individual. It is best to Look at the events and align your personality and your talents and your abilities to a specific event because our events become so broad; from entertainment to leadership to empowerment to funding that you are going to be able to find something you resonate with the most and you can just step in right there.
Melody not only curate plays that heals the soul but she creates other programs using her personal experiences and professional practices from a dual-lens;
[Foster Care Unplugged] do breaking stigmas; a police officer/foster care youth basketball game annually. To break the stigma as it relates to being an officer, as it relates to being a foster child. Often times the officers are the first respondents with a protective specialist so foster care youths will sometimes have a negative connotation with police officers not knowing that they are only doing their jobs. And the officers sometimes do not know the back story of the foster youth often times the teenagers. So they will think that the teenager is problematic and not running away because the basic necessities were not being met for them. Trying to break those stigmas.
They also do A Back-to-School drive that provides over ten thousand bookbags that comes solely from their partnerships as well as a fashion show that also has a therapeutic component synched with fashion called Slay the Runway.
Melody Centeno is the superhero, taking the foster care youth of NYC under her wings and striving to show them that the end result can be a remarkable triumph. Through her journey, she has learned that child welfare comes with so many sides and maintaining her neutralism while being able to support both sides is what she strives to continue. She has discovered how impactful the work that she and her organization do becomes when the lives of the foster care youth changes. She finds this to be rewarding; being a part of changing policy from the macro level and actually seeing it materialize on the micro-level. Through this, she is able to leave the blueprint of what it takes to be a true leader in whatever they are passionate about because the blueprint remains the same but the passion changes.
While this Superhero’s real-life superhero is her daughter, I am sure that there are many other daughters and sons who treasure her and look up to her as their very own superhero.