BATON ROUGE, LA (BRPROUD) – Marketa Garner Walters has been advocating for children her entire life, and while her career has taken many different paths her message has always remained the same.

“I did my first fundraiser when I was eight years old. It was for the Jerry Lewis telethon. I gave my first political speech when I was 10,” Walters said.

Walters found her voice early in life.

“It was what was inside of me. I’ve always spoken on behalf of other people and been the one that was going to stand up and fight for whoever I perceived the underdog to be,” said Walters.

From early on, Walters advocated for children and families.

“Kids don’t fall through cracks. They fall through our hands. If we don’t hold them tight, they fall. So, let’s get everybody together so that is a real tight weave so that nobody falls,” said Walters.

She spent the beginning of her career in the non-profit world, before shifting to state politics under the late Governor Kathleen Blanco.

“I had done a platform for children for what they wanted to see in a governor during the governor’s race. so, she said come put your money where your mouth is, and I was oh no I’m really great outside waving the flag being the loud mouth advocate, that’s how I refer to myself, and she said well come be that inside. And gave me this amazing opportunity to come into state government. I don’t know anything about state government. I’d never been in state government,” said Walters.

She’s worked for three Louisiana governors, and today she is the Secretary of the Department of Children and Family Services and is helping children, specifically those in foster care, find their voice.

“Unfortunately in our society we put a lot of boundaries and labels on people, and once you’re in the system and labeled a foster kid people automatically have some sort of expectation of you that’s probably terribly off balance and not anywhere near what truth is. So, being able to work with these kids to help them find their voice, and figure out who they are, where they want to go and what they can do, and watch the world unfold for them is probably the most rewarding work in the world,” she said.

She’s helped establish a number of programs including the Quality Parenting Initiative, Louisiana Fosters and raised the age of foster care to 21.

“All of that resifted what foster care looks like in Louisiana and made it better whether you’re a little child coming in or whether you’re a 19 year old trying to figure out how to navigate in the world.”

She turned her passion into a thriving career.

“It’s still the same voice inside me that was there when I was a child that is standing up for people that don’t have their own platform.”

And she said she will continue to use her voice to speak up for child and families.

“I am proud of the work that we’ve done. I am humbled by the scope of what is out there and the need that we have and everyday hope that we just get a step closer to making a difference for another family.”