Climbing Mt. Shasta for Foster Youth Advocacy

By Rishi Ahuja

Climbing is hard. The thought kept rumbling around my head as I tried to put one step in front of the other, up the punishing slopes of Mt. Shasta. Each step was a challenge, each step was growing into an insurmountable hurdle. My first attempt on the mountain as part of the Second Annual Foster Youth Questival in 2013 didn’t have the happiest ending – I got to the middle of the climb and had to turn back.

At the time, turning back didn’t really bother me. I had witnessed some beautiful sights and had raised a good chunk of money for an important cause. But over time, it got to me. On that mountain, I was representing one of the most important causes in the world today: how to provide a fair and equitable support system for youth who, through no fault of their own, need government support.

The gravity of my decision to give up while so many youth are out there fighting for a fair shot at success was a humbling moment. You can bet that when the next climb came around, I made sure that I was standing at the top.

Rishi Ahuja (right) at the summit of Mt. Shasta in 2014. Also pictured are Kevin Clark (left) and James Manriquez.

Every year, Fostering Media Connections and California Youth Connection partner to organize a climb up the 14,000-foot Mt. Shasta to fundraise as both organizations strive to make foster care a policy priority for the public and legislative officials. These organizations are on a mission to ensure that every youth in the state, and eventually the nation, has the tools and resources they need to succeed and thrive.

Though I don’t have any familial connections to the system, the Journalism for Social Change class with Daniel Heimpel at the Goldman School of Public Policy forced me to recognize one of the biggest policy crises in our country: we are failing to adequately invest in the success of youth who are in desperate need of our financial and educational support. Don’t take my word for it: a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services study found that in 2012 there were approximately 679,000 incidents of child maltreatment and 397,000 foster youth in the system. Less than 1% of that department’s budget, however, is devoted to the cause.

Participating in the Foster Youth Questival is my small way of contributing to furthering this essential issue. I urge you to join our cause as well. Take a look at Heather’s empowering story of summiting the mountain last year and Christie’s take on what it means to take on Shasta once again. See what FMC’s office manager Yanthy is thinking as she prepares for her first-ever trip up the mountain.

Read these stories and please consider supporting this life-changing event and the important work that FMC and CYC do each day. If you’re interested in sponsoring a youth climber or offering an in-kind donation, contact Heather Matheson at

As a college student, I’m always thinking about how I can best make an impact and contribute to bettering the lives of others. I have realized that sometimes it takes small steps, up a mountain, in pursuit of a fairer system for our nation’s youth.

Rishi Ahuja is a graduating senior at UC Berkeley and soon to be Mitchell Scholar pursuing a Masters in Economics at Trinity College, Dublin. He is also a former Journalism for Social Change Student. 

6th Annual Foster Youth Questival on Crowdrise

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