Imagine having no recollection of your biological parents, moving through 20 to 30 foster homes, attending four different high schools and still making it to Capitol Hill.
Estakio Beltran did it. His passion for raising awareness on the issue of child abuse has fueled his decision to run in the Toronto Marathon on Oct. 16 to raise money for the nonprofit organization Childhelp.
Beltran, 27, has worked for Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D-Calif.) for five years and serves as his senior legislative assistant on children and family issues.
He grew up in Washington state’s foster care system; his earliest memories are from his time in foster care, and he stayed in the system until he turned 18.
The 26.2-mile race will be a first for Beltran, who excelled in gymnastics in high school and college. He attributes his success to participating in sports and to adult mentors in his life, such as his coaches and teachers. He is also grateful for the Jesuit community, which supported him as he struggled to make sense of his circumstances during high school.
“I found a church that was connected with the Jesuit community,” Beltran said. “They welcomed my questions and challenged me to keep wrestling with my faith and didn’t just give me feel-good answers.”
This influence played a role in his decision to attend Gonzaga University, a Jesuit school in Spokane, Wash. As he studied for a bachelor’s degree in psychology and applied communications, he worked full time to supplement scholarships he had won, including one from the Orphan Foundation of America. He was also on the school’s gymnastics team and was a 2001 state champion in vaulting.
Beltran said his childhood in foster care was challenging but that he didn’t know at the time that life could be different.
“I don’t know because there wasn’t a significant dip. You didn’t know that there was anything better, right? I didn’t know that this was a low point. This was just my life,” he said.
He remembers it as an unstable and uncertain time with frequent moves. The moves weren’t always a matter of choice; the foster care system is constantly struggling to accommodate all of the children who need homes. “You just feel like you’ve fallen through the cracks,” he said.
He buoyed his spirit by finding happiness in prosaic moments. “One day, someone was going to compliment you on your shoes, as crappy as they may be, and the next day you get a good grade on an assignment,” he said. “And that was enough to get you through the next week.”
Without any strong roots in Washington state, Beltran packed up immediately after earning his
degree and moved to Washington, D.C. He worked as a legislative correspondent for Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and then moved to Cardoza’s office two years later.
Beltran takes pride in Cardoza’s involvement in combating child abuse and highlights Cardoza’s work on the health care overhaul. The law extends health care coverage to children as old as 26 under their parents’ plans, and his boss advocated for foster care children of the same age to also be covered.
Beltran doesn’t consider his child advocacy work anywhere close to being done. He hopes his story will inspire foster kids, “whether that’s picking up running as a sport or learning about the opportunities that exist out there for children who come from backgrounds like mine.”
He doesn’t dwell on his past hardships and wants to be positive and inspirational and enforce the fact that help is out there.
“I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me. I just got here, I’m just getting started, I’m not running away,” Beltran said.
The marathon is one part on his path to raising awareness. He first discovered Childhelp during a staff briefing on children’s issues and found that he agreed with its holistic approach to foster care.
When Childhelp asked Hill staffers to run in Toronto to benefit the organization, Beltran decided to help a group that reminded him of those that had aided him.
He is up to running 18 miles at a time now and trains in the mornings and evenings on the Hill, beginning on the steps of the Capitol.