Backpack and school supply drives often don’t meet the needs of older youth in foster care; this story is part 3 of 3.
There I was, freshly graduated from high school, knowing that I had been accepted as a first generation college student to attend Fresno State University. Yet, I remember being very sad because I did not know what to expect or what college was going to be like. I was anxious to meet new people and step out of my comfort zone, but I was fearful about being out in the world all alone, even though I was still in foster care. Reality set in once I turned 18 and started preparing for my court date to emancipate with all of these fears in the back of my mind.
It all happened so quickly: I turned 18 on August 6, 2008, emancipated just six days later and moved into my college dorm on August 20, 2008. I was homeless and couch-surfed until move-in day. The system basically kicked me out with zero resources, and I was so focused on getting to school I didn’t even know how unprepared I was for campus life until I arrived at my mentor’s house, Ms. Johnson. She had agreed to be my surrogate parent to help me move into the dorms. But when I hopped off the bus with a small bag of items I could scrounge up, she jumped into action, grabbing items from her house – basic essentials such as washcloths, towels, lotion, and a blanket for my bed.
I still have a radio she gave me. It was such a small, sentimental gift, but it was so big to me. I owe Ms. Johnson a huge thanks for helping me that day and for always pushing me to keep working toward my goals, even when I wanted to quit school and give up.
Now as the program manager for Fostering Media Connections’ Youth Voice program, I’m so excited to be Ms. Johnson to other former foster youth with the creation of our Pack to the Future: Backpack Giveaway. I remember what it was like to feel alone, and what a difference a couple of people made in my life. I want to be that for other former foster youth.
Often, school supply drives cater to young students in elementary and middle school. Through my experiences, I remember the older youth only getting what was leftover, like shoes that were too small or clothes that were too big. Older foster youth are often placed in facilities or simply forgotten about. Using this platform to share my experiences, I hope to inspire others to not forget about the older youth. We need love, too. We need support and basic life necessities so we can navigate the challenges of college. We will make mistakes but we are always finding our way.
My advice to advocates, social workers, caregivers and every single person working in this community? Be the consistent support person a youth needs.
If you want to take part in this year’s backpack drive, you can make an individual donation, shop our Amazon wishlist or become an event sponsor.
Our Pack to the Future Backpack Giveaway will provide school supplies, backpacks and more to college-bound youth who have spent time in foster care. For more info on how to get involved, please contact our team:
Youth Voice Program Manager
Sarah St. Gelais
Communications and Engagement Manager