You can help
What: Dinner, raffle and silent auction to benefit the California Youth Connection
When: 4-7 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 21
Where: Davis Odd Fellows Hall, 415 Second St.
Tickets: $30 each, available at The Avid Reader, 617 Second St., and Common Grounds, 2171 Cowell Blvd.
The paths they took to UC Davis vary, but there is one thing these former foster children have in common: They beat exceptional odds in getting here.
Research shows fewer than 10 percent of foster children go to college, and just 2 percent graduate.
But members of the local chapter of the California Youth Connection — including UC Davis students and recent graduates — aren’t content to rest on their own success. They are determined to extend a hand to the foster children coming up behind them, to share what they’ve learned, provide assistance wherever they can and advocate to improve the foster care system.
“We are working toward change,” said Victoria Yates, a former foster child and recent UCD graduate.
Yates’ involvement with the California Youth Connection has included speaking to students at River City High School recently, as well as to incoming UCD freshmen who are former foster youths.
At UCD, former foster children are taken under the wing of the Guardian Scholars program, which doesn’t just help students in the transition to college life, but provides many of the things other students receive from their parents, from a place to go over the holidays to mentoring and advice.
Now many Guardian Scholars participants have joined the CYC, where they are directing their energy outward into the community.
Members work with independent living programs in Yolo County, where foster kids as young as 14 are prepared for life on their own, learning everything from budgeting to cooking, sex education to job searches and interviews — any of the things that most teens would learn from their parents.
CYC also advocates for legislation that aids foster children, including laws that have ensured that foster youths receive services after the age of 18 if they are working or going to school, as well as legislation aimed at keeping siblings together in the system. Local members hope to attend the CYC annual conference in January to educate state legislators about foster care issues.
On Sunday, Oct. 21, the local chapter will hold its first big fundraiser — a dinner, raffle and silent auction at the Davis Odd Fellows Hall, 415 Second St., from 4 to 7 p.m. The event is being made possible by the Davis Rebekah Lodge.
In addition to raising funds to send members to the annual conference, students also hope to use donations to create and print resource cards for children currently in the system.
The cards would contain up-to-date information and phone numbers for agencies in Yolo County that foster kids might need — from child protective services to crisis hot lines, social services programs, even transitional housing options.
In the near future, they hope to create a solid mentoring program, serving as one-on-one mentors to foster kids throughout Yolo County.
“I didn’t have too many mentors growing up,” said Galvin Emesibe, a UCD student and former foster child. “But I had people at least, and I want to help kids find people, to help them make that transition. We know statistically that most foster kids do struggle, and we want to change that.”
Ashly Dyke agrees.
The UCD student has been involved with CYC since her high school days and sees many more areas where both former foster kids as well as the community at large can make a difference in the lives of foster children.
“Mentorships are really huge,” she said. “It’s scary to emancipate and not know where you’re going and if you can find a job.”
Providing job-shadowing opportunities, as well as internships, would be a great way for the community to get involved, she said.
Positive reinforcement is important as well.
“Being in the foster care system … can be really depressing,” Dyke explained. “Kids get bounced around. Most positive reinforcement does not come from foster parents, it comes from mentors, teachers, coaches.”
But sometimes connecting with those adults can be tough. Several CYC members tell stories of being unable to participate in after-school sports or extracurricular activities because their foster parents couldn’t, or wouldn’t, provide transportation.
It’s another area where CYC members want to help out.
“If foster parents don’t want to drive, we could help,” said UCD student Krystal Fergel, “as drivers or by coming up with donations for bus tickets, for example.”
Transportation is a big ongoing issue.
One of the local CYC chapter members is a high school student in West Sacramento who has trouble getting to the chapter’s meetings on the UCD campus. He has to take the bus, but he needs bus passes to get there.
The bottom line for CYC members, they said, is with some community support, they will make a difference with their passion, dedication and knowledge about the foster care system.
“The resource cards, the other things we didn’t have in the system … we can fix that,” Fergel said. “You can take a foster kid and raise them up. It’s doable.”
“We have the passion to achieve what we want,” she added. “We just need the support of the community.”
That shouldn’t be too hard to find, said Jan Judson, an adult volunteer with the local CYC chapter.
“People are incredibly generous in this community,” she said. “They just don’t realize what they can do to help.”
Tickets to the Oct. 21 fundraiser are $30 each and are available at The Avid Reader, 617 Second St., and Common Grounds, 2171 Cowell Blvd., as well as in Woodland at 729 Main St. For more information, visit www.calyouthconn.org.
— Reach Anne Ternus-Bellamy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8051. Follow her on Twitter at @ATernusBellamy