From Trauma to Triumph

“I wouldn’t be where I am today without the support of organizations like JBAY,” says Luz Hernandez, a former foster youth who has worked with John Burton Advocates for Youth (JBAY) as an intern and youth advocate. “JBAY helped me to see my value, my potential, and inspired me through so many of the steps that brought me to where I am now.”

Luz just completed another major step toward her goals, when she was accepted by UC Berkeley to pursue a Master’s Degree in Social Welfare.

“I have a strong vision of combining my personal experience and education to work with young people of color who have faced abuse and trauma,” says Luz. “I know firsthand that the social is personal and the personal is social.”  

Luz was brought to the U.S. from Honduras by her father when she was just 14. Rather than attending school, she worked 12-hour shifts and gave every penny she earned to her father. After two years, Luz’s father returned to Honduras but left her behind. She was alone at 16, barely able to speak English. Luz entered foster care after someone reported that a child was living in a San Francisco park. 

“My foster parents enrolled me into school, and that day I felt that I had achieved one of the most important goals in life,” said Luz. “Going to high school without knowing English was a challenge, to say the least. My determination to pursue a college degree is largely due to the inspiring examples and unwavering support of my foster parents and my social worker.”

After aging out of care, Luz’s challenges returned. She became homeless and lived for a time in a garage without heat or running water. There wasn’t even a lock to secure the few belongings she had or keep her safe at night.

Luz never forgot her goals and was able to enroll in City College of San Francisco, and then transferred to San Francisco State University, graduating in May 2018. She also became a U.S. citizen. Luz interned at JBAY, bringing her experiences to advocate for improved comprehensive sexual health education for those in foster care, and for safe, affordable housing for former foster youth. She is now working at First Place for Youth as a Rising Up Housing Case Manager.

“As a first-generation, low-income foster youth from Honduras, the first battle I overcame was the lack of resources for young women who experienced trauma in childhood,” Luz recalls. “It took me a couple of years to find a support system that I could trust, to find adequate healing resources to overcome my trauma. I want to continue fighting against child abuse and supporting foster youth; I want to show our disadvantaged communities that there are people out there that care about their physical, social, and emotional wellbeing. I believe we can imagine a new future for each generation; we can create our own narratives, forge our own paths; we can cultivate community support to heal from trauma.”

To read more about Luz Hernadez’s story, and those of others who have experienced foster care and homelessness, visit JBAY’s Youth Profiles page.