After being placed into foster care due to abuse, Alex spent his childhood being shuttled around LA County: Long Beach, Paramount, South Central LA, Laverne, and Covina. Each of these moves meant a new caregiver, a new school, and new disruptions.
As a senior in high school, he was placed in a group home and started yet another new school. He learned that a graduation requirement at the school was a major project that other students had started in the freshman year. Neither his teacher nor his social worker thought he would be able to complete it. That really bothered him, so instead of giving up, he dug in. He finished the project, graduated from high school, and started community college.
Thanks to John Burton Advocates for Youth (JBAY), his community college had a special program for foster youth attending college, known as a campus support program. JBAY successfully advocated for the creation of the program in 2016 and since then it has grown to serve over 2,000 foster youth annually attending 45 California community college campuses.
For Alex, the support provided by his campus support program was critical. For the first time, he was supported as a student and taken seriously academically. He also had the opportunity to meet other foster youth who had faced the same struggles and receive mentorship from people who understood the unique challenges facing foster youth in higher education. “I owe a lot to that program,” said Alex.
After two years, Alex transferred to UC Santa Cruz and again joined the campus support program for foster youth. As a community college student, Alex was used to both working and attending school and intended to take the same approach at UC Santa Cruz, working in retail. Instead, people kept telling him that he should do research, something that was both foreign and intimidating.
But as in foster care, Alex adapted instead of giving up. He joined a research project focused on the role of agriculture in urban settings, promoting the understanding of campus agricultural resources and implementing hydroponic agriculture systems. Looking back on it, Alex is amazed, “I had never even stuck my hands in the dirt!”
In addition to research, Alex continued to advocate for foster youth attending college. He attended the Blueprint Conference, organized by JBAY, and presented to hundreds of campus professionals on how to best serve foster youth. He also met dozens of former foster youth like himself, all achieving their dreams in post-secondary education.
Throughout his time in foster care, Alex relied heavily on financial aid, as do all foster youth. Thanks to JBAY he was able to receive the Chafee Education and Training Voucher, a grant up to $5,000 for foster youth attending college. JBAY successfully advocated for a $4 million increase to Chafee, opening the doors of higher education to an additional 800 foster youth, including Alex.
After two more years of hard work both inside and outside of the classroom, Alex graduated this Spring with a BA in Sociology. He now wants to help young people like himself. “I am impatient to get out there and help!”
Despite having a childhood of instability and disappointments, Alex is a happy, ambitious young man who wants nothing more than to help foster youth like him. He embodies the grit of foster youth, fighting against incredible odds to make a better life for themselves.
And while his experience is impressive, he is not alone. Across California, tens of thousands of youth are fighting this same fight: for a better life and the opportunity to contribute.