By David Fidlin
In many respects, Chicago native Bregetta Wilson has been a pioneer. For good reason, the rights of children in foster care have been at the forefront of her many advocacy efforts.
Bregetta, who lived in foster care through a portion of her youth, says she is interested in ensuring her peers have safe and sustainable living environments. She also aims to assist youth in transitioning into adulthood.
Despite adverse circumstances – including a turbulent childhood that resulted in attending three elementary and five high schools and a mother who had to surrender her – Bregetta overcame obstacles and took to advocacy starting in her later teen-aged years.
Bregetta, who came to Milwaukee at age 5, became involved with Lad Lake and its connections program. The formative experience, she says, sparked a desire to be a voice and fight for the rights of those who are oftentimes marginalized.
Through Lad Lake, a century-old organization aimed at forging positive relationships with youth, Bregetta began gaining hands-on experience with youth development programs. She started attending conferences and workshops and served as a panelist at a number of events.
In 2004, she was a founding members of the Milwaukee Youth Advisory Council, which remains in existence. While on the council, Bregetta and fellow members spoke out on a number of issues. For Bregetta one issue – a lack of health insurance for young adults exiting foster care – hit close to home. After going to Madison and asking for change, new policies were eventually implemented.
A more recent opportunity allowed Bregetta to transition her advocacy work from Lad Lake to Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin as a newly-created position cropped up and became an offer too good to pass up.
In June, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin received a $2.8 million grant to pilot a program designed to reduce health care costs and improve the level of care patients receive. The three-year grant is being used to create a number of positions, including community health navigator – a position Bregetta assumed in June.
In her new role, Bregetta works within an assigned geographic area, primarily Milwaukee’s Metcalfe Park neighborhood, and helps facilitate care for members of the hospital’s Children’s Community Health Plan. She also coordinates social services and medical resources and serves as a point of contact for questions pertaining to health education.
Bregetta’s advocacy work has created what she readily admits is a sense of purpose in her own life.
“I really like to help people; I find great joy in it,” she says. “This is not just a job for me. The reward I receive from helping people goes way beyond getting a paycheck. I just feel like this is how people should be.”
Bregetta is in the process of earning her bachelor’s degree in human services management from Cardinal Stritch University. She is planning to graduate in May and has her eyes set on moving on to receive a master’s degree in public health from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Bregetta, a single mom, has three children she considers the joy of her life: Asyria Pryor, age 11; Raashida Butler, age 4; and Shyaam Butler, age 3.
Although she is not a formal member of any church or other religious institution, Bregetta describes herself as spiritual and openly admits she looks for wisdom from others whenever possible.
“I definitely seek out guidance from the mentors in my life,” she says. “I have learned a lot from people with amazing life experience over the years.”
Although she still has her life ahead of her, Bregetta sees how childhood life experiences have shaped her values and life’s pursuit to make the world a better place.
“The experiences you have in life help make you who you are,” she says. “I was put here to help people. I know that. Honestly, I wouldn’t know what else to do with myself if I wasn’t helping people.”
Bregetta’s commitment to ensuring foster children have safe and happy homes is the reason he has been named a special honoree and is receiving the Milwaukee Times Black Excellence Award as a child and youth advocate.