Power beyond measure: making the choice to make a difference

  • Published
  • By 2 Lt. Jonathan Carkhuff
  • 90th Missile Wing Public Affairs

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” – Marianne Williamson


Messages of inadequacy and crushing statistics that show high rates of crime and homelessness can often prevent foster youth from reaching their full potential.


1 Lt. Dominique Raemsch-Sawyer, 90 Security Forces Group executive officer, winner of the 90 Missile Wing Volunteer of the Year Award, was once a number contained in those negative statistics.


Not anymore.


Raemsch-Sawyer was a foster youth. At 13 years old, he was placed in the North Carolina foster care system. By 18 years old, he had moved between five different foster homes and two different group homes.


At 18, the age at which a youth is legally declared too old to remain in foster care, Raemsch-Sawyer was aged out of the system and spent time without a home and without shelter. 


Despite the many challenges and difficulties facing him during that time, he excelled in the classroom and on the athletic fields in high school.


Raemsch-Sawyer’s hard work and determination earned him a full academic scholarship to North Carolina State University. Following his lifelong dream to join the military, he enrolled in the Air Force ROTC program.


He completed his undergraduate degree in Criminology in just three years and, with one year left on his scholarship, decided to pursue a master’s degree.


A Master of Liberal Sciences degree gave Raemsch-Sawyer the opportunity to study a subject he was deeply passionate about, the foster care system. What Raemsch-Sawyer found during his studies, combined with his experiences in the foster care system, alarmed him.


“You can find tons of articles and tons of dissertations on foster care kids,” said Raemsch-Sawyer. “They are all negative. All you hear about are the negative statistics. When I was in foster care I was told that I was going to die, go to jail, become some criminal, or be homeless then of course that’s what I’m going to become. It’s exactly how you are going to live your life.”


A defining moment for Raemsch-Sawyer came when he submitted three similar papers on foster care success stories to three different teachers.


One teacher sent it to the state government of North Carolina as an example of the impact that better foster care can have on foster youth.


The second teacher used Raemsch-Sawyer’s paper as an example of creative writing for future classes.


The third teacher gave him a D.


The teacher explained to Raemsch-Sawyer that the reason he received a D was “because foster kids don’t succeed.”


“Never in that paper did I mention myself or talk about real people I knew,” said Raemsch-Sawyer. “I went and did the work to find the actual statistics to prove that there are positive statistics and success stories out there. There’s just no one presenting that information.”


Raemsch-Sawyer told the professor, “I wanted to let you know I’m one of those statistics that actually made it.”


That interaction with his professor was an inspiring moment.


“That’s what made me start Real Life Annie,” said Raemsch-Sawyer.


Real Life Annie is a non-profit organization aimed at providing a solid foundation of leadership and life skills for foster youth. It began with Raemsch-Sawyer collecting information on foster youths who had gone on to succeed in life. He wanted to bring examples to the kids he taught and encourage them to rise above the negative messages they were constantly being told.


The next step was to return to his last foster care group home. He started mentoring a group of 10 foster youths, which quickly swelled to 20. The initial nine-week classroom course focused on teaching them useful tools for future success.


“Real Life Annie teaches foster youth how to develop their own autonomy,” Raemsch-Sawyer explained. “How to create their own identities, their own leadership abilities.”


He continued, “You learn about how to develop your own mindset, your own ideas, so that you can move forward. So that no matter what, at age 18 if you get picked up by a home or you’re on the streets, you know what’s next.”


The successful launch of Real Life Annie allowed Raemsch-Sawyer to coordinate with the local high school and obtain course credits for the students participating in the Real Life Annie curriculum.


“I love to teach the class everywhere I go,” said Raemsch- Sawyer. “Whenever I have time, I will teach a local class.”


Rapid growth also accompanied Real Life Annie’s success.


Raemsch-Sawyer knew he wanted to, and had to reach a wider community. He collaborated with foster organizations across the country and around the world to bring his lessons to the foster youth community.


Additionally, Raemsch-Sawyer developed a more accessible version of the Real Life Annie program. He compiled and molded his nine-week classroom course into an online textbook, and, eventually, into an interactive website.


“I wanted an online version of my classes so that anyone can log on in case I can’t be there to teach them,” Raesmch-Sawyer said. “If they can log on, they can have it. It’s free.”


“I view it as my donation. My way to give back.”

“I like to say ‘People first. Mission always.’ I will give 100 percent to anyone else before I do anything for myself,” said Raemsch-Sawyer.


As a security forces officer in the Air Force, Raemsch-Sawyer has a full-time job protecting and defending Air Force bases around the world while leading and teaching Airmen to do the same. He uses many of his experiences from the foster system to make him a better Airman, leader and officer.


While Raemsch-Sawyer is ready and willing to help his fellow Airmen, he states that he has received a special and unique benefit from his time and experiences in the Air Force.  


“The Air Force gives us family. We can always find a family wherever we go, we can always find friends. We can always find someone we can talk to. There are so many different people, so many different ideals, so many different things that you just wouldn’t see anywhere else.”


He adds, “You’re not alone, there’s always a bigger family, you just have to go out and find them.”


Raemsch-Sawyer is excited about the possibilities that the Air Force has afforded him to extend the global reach of Real Life Annie. He is humbled by the success the program has found so far.


“Wherever I go it’s a new opportunity for me to impact someone,” said Raemsch-Sawyer. “It’s not about what you do for yourself. It’s about how we all can grow.”