Local nonprofit Fostering Youth Independence held its fifth annual Back to School Bash, where students received backpacks and school supplies for the upcoming semester, and for the first time also featured a career fair featuring 11 speakers from the FYI community who explained their jobs and career qualifications.
After listening to the speaker presentations, the youth were encouraged to visit the speaker tables to ask questions and find out more about a career opportunity in the represented field. The varied lineup of speakers included an emergency room nurse, a therapist, a judicial and superior court judge’s assistant, an air traffic controller, a sixth-grade teacher, two recreation therapists, a firefighter, a plumber, a landscape and pool contractor, and a public relations practitioner.
“We added the career fair to introduce youth to professions they may not have considered,” said Carolyn Olsen, FYI’s executive director and co-founder. “And several youth have since indicated that they would like to pursue one of the careers presented.”
Following the presentations, the youth received the opportunity to go “shopping” in a back-to-school boutique that had been set up with backpacks, school supplies and duffel bags filled with personal supplies. The Soroptimists of Valencia donated all the backpacks and hygiene supplies, The Sanctuary Church donated all the school supplies, volunteer Tracy Quick donated all the snacks and household products, Christ Lutheran Church donated the venue, and the Church of Jesus Chris of Latter-Day Saints, Santa Clarita, set up and cleared the facility for the event.
“We are extremely grateful to the professionals who shared their career information to inspire our youth, as well as to the other volunteers who donated supplies and made this event such a success,” Olsen said.
FYI supports Santa Clarita’s transition-age foster youth (ages 16-25) with needed resources as they age out of the foster system and work to complete a post-secondary education to prepare to become successful, independent adults. Each youth is also paired with a caring adult Ally, who provides support and encouragement as they join with FYI to change their youth’s life and overcome the cycle of challenges that are endemic to foster youth.
Olsen said that supporting and encouraging foster youth to get a secondary education is key to FYI’s mission, given the discouraging statistic that only 55% of foster youth graduate from high school. Outcomes for former foster youth are poor, with half becoming homeless or incarcerated within two years of aging out of the system. Only 4% go on to earn a bachelor’s degree, and rates of unemployment and poverty are high.
The 51 youth currently being served by FYI are attending high school, community college, nursing school, and university. Thirteen FYI youth will be attending four-year universities in the fall. One of them, Olsen says, is a real success story.
“One FYI youth, April, joined FYI in February 2019, was paired with an Ally, and has demonstrated amazing progress,” she said. “As a foster teen, April had 31 placements and attended 22 high schools. Although she was struggling academically and financially when she joined FYI, she has since brought up her grades and was recently accepted to Rutgers University, where she will begin attending in the fall. April credits FYI for her success, and we are tremendously proud of her accomplishment.”
During the past 18 months COVID-19 has exacerbated the challenges foster youth already face. Many of FYI’s youth became unemployed, and most struggled with the transition to online learning. FYI has supported these youth in a number of ways and FYI’s volunteer Allies and staff have also provided emotional support for youth who have felt especially alone during this time.
The organization welcomes donations to support their work with foster youth, and these can be submitted by visiting www.fyifosteryouth.org or, alternately, contacting FYI at 661-360-1500.