When Lori Christian was 10 years old, she accompanied her father on one of his truck routes to and from California.
That’s when Robert Christian had a conversation with his daughter he can still recall to this day.
“We were gone for about 10 hours, I guess,” he said. “Out of the blue, she starts asking me about taxes. Like, ‘what are taxes? What’s this for? Why do you pay this and why do you pay that?’ I’m like, ‘why do you care? You’re 10. Play with your dolls and forget about it, you’ve got time to worry about that later.’ She now helps do my paperwork to get my taxes ready for the accountant every year.”
An interest in taxes at age 10 might’ve been the first indication that Lori Christian was wise beyond her years. Still, it was only the beginning.
On Jan. 31, now 16-year-old Lori was recognized as one of Washington’s Distinguished Finalists for the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards for her work with Teens for Abused Children — an organization that she started on her own to assist children who have experienced abuse.
The group works to gather resources — such as clothing, toys and diapers — to assist kids in the foster system.
It’s a case close to her heart, because she’s seen the effects of abuse firsthand.
At the end of Lori’s freshman year at W. F. West High School, her family fostered a six-month old child. The baby had a total of nine fractured bones throughout her body and both of her legs were broken as a by-product of the abuse in her former home. A combination of that experience and her family’s struggles with a revolving door of case workers forced her to act.
“When a lot of people found out what was going on with my foster sister, support just came flooding in,” Lori said. “It really made all the difference in the world. It fueled the passion to want to see justice and to want to help others in the same way I was helped.”
Christian started Teens for Abused Children, or TFAC, on her own. She credits her parents for supporting her every step of the way, but it wasn’t until much later in the process that others joined her effort.
“Literally, I didn’t even know she was going to (start TFAC), until it was done,” Robert said. “She did it all on her own. Once she showed me what she was doing, it was by no means a finished product at that point. She said “yeah, I want to do this,” and I’m like ‘okay, well if you need something, you let me know.’ If there’s anything I can help you with, let me know.”
Lori never took her father up on that offer. Despite his willingness to assist her in any way he could, she would respond with, what Robert calls, her standard answer anytime he asks if she needs anything.
“Nope, I’m good,” she’d say.
Before long, TFAC started working with other clubs at W. F. West, namely the FCCLA club, to spread awareness on behalf of children who experience abuse. FCCLA and the Baby Bearcats program sponsored various events for TFAC, such as blanket and toy drives.
“It kind of spread awareness more than anything else,” Lori said. “I also do speech and debate and I kind of talked about (TFAC) in a debate setting, on both a state and national level just talking about (the process).
“A lot of people were really impressed at the fact that, like, you actually can start something and age isn’t a deterrent.”
Lori is also working to educate the public on foster care reform and hopes to see that the amount of cases an individual social worker can be given at one time is eventually limited.
“There’s not really a limit of different cases (a case worker can work),” Lori said. “Our case worker specifically had 180 active cases at any given point, which makes it really difficult to give that individual attention to each child.”
She acknowledges that at 16 years old, she’s unable to vote for any sort of change. Still, simply drawing awareness to what she believes to be the system’s biggest problem was her ultimate goal.
Beyond the recognition from the Prudential Spirit of Community Award, Lori also received the President’s Volunteer Service Award due to the number of community service hours she completed when she applied for the former award last fall.
She doesn’t graduate high school until 2021, but when she does, Lori aspires to attend law school. She wants to help smaller communities, like the one she’s grown up in.
“I’ve always been a super proud parent,” Robert said. “That kid, when I think about the stuff she does, it gives me goosebumps. She really is an amazing kid, and selfless, she really is.”