County of Los Angeles
DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILY SERVICES
425 Shatto Place, Los Angeles, California 90020
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 2, 2010
Contact: Neil Zanville or Chuck Willis
DCFS Office of Public Affairs
Day of the Event: (310) 980-7596
Board of Supervisors
MICHAEL D. ANTONOVICH
MEDIA ADVISORY-JUNE 8TH
Foster Youth Who Exemplify Success Take Center Stage at the
'Celebration 2010' Graduation Ceremony on Tuesday, June 8th
133 young adults will proudly take center stage to celebrate their success on Tuesday, June 8, 2010, as part of the 21st annual "Celebration 2010: Honoring the Academic Achievements of Foster Youth." The event will begin at 7 p.m. at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, located at 111 South Grand Avenue in downtown Los Angeles. Jada Pinkett Smith is the keynote speaker and Paul Rodriguez is the emcee for the event.
Hundreds of friends, foster parents and family members will watch as the youth march across the stage to honor this significant milestone in their lives - an occasion marked by academic achievement and triumph over adversity. The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) Director Patricia S. Ploehn and the Los Angeles County Chief Probation Officer Donald H. Blevins are among the invited guests.
As part of the "Celebration 2010" graduation ceremony, more than $750,000 in scholarships will be presented to the youth by a variety of corporations and non-profit organizations. Donors include United Friends of the Children (UFC), The Teague Family Foundation, Rising Stars, Coalition for At Risk Youth, Children's Court Scholarship Fund, Heads Up Youth Foundation, KLOS, Accenture, Rotary Club of Los Angeles, Evelyn Booker-L.S.C., Los Angeles County Department of Probation, Jane Mabie Memorial Scholarship/All Saints Church Foster Care Project, One Child at a Time, Torrance Women's Club, Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Incorporated/Omicron Rho Zeta Chapter, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. and the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services Managers.
133 graduating foster and probation youth who have achieved academic excellence.
Jada Pinkett Smith is the keynote speaker and Paul Rodriguez is the emcee for the event.
DCFS Director Patricia S. Ploehn
Los Angeles County Chief Probation Officer Donald H. Blevins
June 8, 2010
Walt Disney Concert Hall, 111 South Grand Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90012
"Celebration 2010" is a collaborative effort involving DCFS; the County of Los Angeles Probation Department; UFC, a non-profit organization that provides the direct and in-depth services that make it possible for foster youth to become self-sustaining adults; The Teague Family Foundation; and Casey Family Programs.
All of the young adults taking center stage on June 8th have demonstrated strong character and perseverance in overcoming past obstacles to graduate from high school with honors, strong grade point averages and acceptance at prestigious universities and vocational schools.
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Attached are the personal stories of some of this year's "Celebration 2010" graduates, written in their own words.
If you would like to interview any of these remarkable youth or other youth involved in Celebration 2010, please call Neil Zanville with the DCFS Office of Public Affairs at (213) 351-5886.
Maria B., Age: 18, Whittier, Career Goal: Biopsychology or Public Policy
I remember walking down the unpaved poverty-stricken streets of Mexico when I was five years old, looking like what my foster mom would call a "small cadaver," since I was the target of my mom's abuse and thinking to myself 'I am going to get out of here; I will work hard and fight for something better not only for me but also for my siblings.
Being the only biological member of my family that has been residing in the United States, I have huge aspirations and goals for my life. In the center of them is helping my younger siblings.
My earliest memories consist of my siblings and I in foster care because my parents used to physically hurt us. I saw my placements in the foster care system as opportunities to succeed in school and a chance to be away from my parents. I saw myself helping the kids who were in my situation. School became my top priority and my life because I knew that education was the key to break the cycle of abuse, not only in my family but in many other cases. I did not want the abusive and erratic lifestyle my parents were living.
When I was in the seventh grade, my dad was deported to Mexico, and called my mother to bring us to Tijuana. In Tijuana, I begged my parents to let me come back to Los Angeles to continue my education so that one day I could help my family. They reluctantly agreed to let me stay with my aunt.
I worked hard becoming one of the top students in my class. I was taking geometry in the seventh grade. That summer, my aunt sent me to Tijuana and I worked alongside my two older sisters and Dad selling chewing gum and roses in the streets to help support my younger siblings. I used to make $70 to $90 a day.
At 14, I was placed in foster care again. I felt safe because I knew nobody could send me back to Mexico. Unfortunately, the high school counselor at my new high school would not give me the advanced courses I needed. She knew I was in foster care and judged me because of this. I felt depressed because all of my and all of my achievements were not accomplishments, they were a necessity to become successful and help my baby sister in Mexico. I felt like a failure. I ended up in a hospital for overdosing on sleeping pills. When I was discharged from the hospital, my social worker placed me in a level-12 group home. The staff like me and I became mentally and emotionally more stable. At a Quinceañera event, my middle school counselor and her husband decided to become my legal guardians. Upon moving into their house, I would be attending my fourth high school but my mindset to succeed kept me on track.
I have always worked hard and earned everything I have; nothing has been handed to me. When I grow up, I want to help kids that are going through tough times and give them hope for a better future. Ever since I was attending elementary school, school has been an outlet for me, a key to my own success, a place where I fight for my life that lies ahead. I want to know how it feels to be the last one standing and prove wrong the people who said I would not make it far in life.
Portia L., Age 18, Los Angeles, Career Goal: Pre-Medicine
I am a member of HEART (Human Effort Aimed at Relating Together). I first became part of this program in 2008. I was selected by my counselor because of my excellent grades. She knew I had the potential of being a leader. I am a mediator; I resolve problems between my peers at John C. Freemont. My title is an Ambassador of Peace.; I advocate peace throughout my campus. Being in this position requires me to take a leadership position, because I am a leader. I have to listen to both disputants and find a solution that both agree on. People at my school know who I am; they know that I am a mediator.
There are many skills I had to develop to in order to be a good mediator. Communication is one of them; I have to present myself in a manner that will not outrage the disputants. I have to be careful how I rephrase things and not sound biased. My tone has to be calm and collected so the disputants feel comfortable and open to talk with me. I have to be a good listener grasping everything that I hear. I have to show that I am interested in what they have to say. In order to know what the problem is and how you are going to solve it, you have to listen. Patience is another skill. Not all mediations go as planned. Some disputants are not willing to participate and get help. In many cases, they are rude and hostile toward the mediator and it's up to me to either act like them or count to ten and try to work with them. Being a mediator is hard work but it pays off when you see the two people you mediated in the school hallway saying hi to you, telling you how much they appreciate you. I enjoy being a HEART member; it brings out the best in me and makes me proud to help others.
When I think of college I think of opportunities and having the chance to get a higher education for something that I like. It's important being able to pursue my dreams and become successful. Since the sixth grade college has always been a priority in my life. I even knew what school I wanted to attend. When I began high school I knew I had to focus on my school work, be committed to my classes and not give in to peer pressure in order to have a chance at college. I always said when I was a little girl how I wanted to be a medical doctor. Seeing the doctors on TV and the intensity and pressure they are under always fascinated me. I know that TV is not reality and all that happens is not always true. But the gestures of joy and humility that is expressed on their faces when they save a life or patch up a scratch inspires me to be a doctor. I have not figured out what type of doctor I want to be. I know that I want to help people and I want people to rely on me to sooth their pain. I want them to know they can come to me and put all their trust in me my hands that I will make them better. Being a doctor is not an easy job, and it will take time, patience, determination and a lot of studying to pursue this goal. I am willing to whatever it takes to become a doctor and I have the motivation and drive to do it.
Cynthia L., 18, Canyon Country, Career Goal: Teacher
No one's life is perfect; everything has both good and bad in it. I have learned to accept things for what they truly are and embrace the changes it may have on me. There is no greater teacher than life's labyrinth.
My mother and father divorced when I was young, leaving me to bounce back and forward from living in the back of a used Toyota in Chicago with my alcoholic mother and older brother to my abusive father. Things felt as if they were better when my father married my step-mother, but in reality the abuse escalated. A note I had written and planned to give to my step-mother which included specific details of the abuse-was found perchance and threw me into foster care. At the time, my best friend's parent's house was able to support foster children, so they took me in. They have accepted me as one of their own and given me a safe and healing environment, in other words, a new perspective on life.
I joined Canyon High School's Speech and Debate Team during the beginning of my junior year. I entered myself in the Lincoln Douglas debate, a one-on-one debate over philosophical topics. At each of my competitions I debated at least three to four different people and each time I came so very close to winning, but missed one tiny detail causing me to lose. State Qualifiers provided similar results. Distraught and displaced, I aimed for State Qualifiers for just Speech, in which I had an Oratorical Interpretation prepared which is taking a speech that has already been given and recreating the same effect the author intended. Placing in time and effort, I sharpened my speech to be lethal. Going in to the State Qualifiers for Speech, I had an air of determination surrounding me. The end result was first place in Oratorical Interpretation, which means I am going to the State championship. In every task I undertake I place that same fervor and determination.
My work ethic is exactly the same. I want a career that I am truly passionate about, something that I love. Ever since I was little I wanted to be a teacher. With that, I want to pair my love for English, yet I have recently discovered a passion and love in Culinary Arts. Food is an obsession to me and I am currently taking a Culinary Class with a Le Cordon Bleu chef through my high school. I am the alto section leader in my high school's Women's Choir and I have loved every moment. It may seem like there are a lot of things I am interested in, but once in college, I know that I will find the one that is right for me and work as hard as I can towards a career. I would be greatly honored and humbled to have the opportunity to study at California State Northridge, but I won't take it lightly. I know that I must work hard and dedicate myself to the task at hand. . I cannot change the things that have happened to me and where I am, I wouldn't want to change the person created. I know exactly who I am. I am a strong capable, determined, passionate woman whose bounds are endless. Success is something I constantly strive for. I survived 9 years in an abusive household, I survived losing my mother, I survived the toughest AP courses in high school. I am someone who will not back down, I will not give up.
Ciara A., 17, Los Angeles, Career Goal: Medicine
Preparing myself for the workforce, completing all A-G requirements to graduate high school, I am required to be focused and alert. I am ahead of my class with a great grade GPA (grade point average) which helps me to meet the credits to graduate high school. Taking a leadership role early in life and becoming the editor-in-chief of the 2009-2010 year book assists me in meeting deadlines and bringing people together to finish a school project. The yearbook has been a great responsibility and requires me to complete deadlines in timely manner.
Current and previous jobs experience (paid or volunteer) has been very beneficial to my work experience. I am willing to except the challenges of doing lots of volunteer work to help prepare me for the medical work field ahead. I have balanced my schedule so that everything gets done and I don't fall behind. Being organized helps me utilize my time to study, work, and do positive things in the community such as picking up trash around my school. At school my teachers always make sure I stay on track and tell me to ask when I need help.
At my school everybody is always ready to help me. My counselor has influenced me to go far in life in becoming an OBGYN. He's always helping me fill out scholarship forms and has my best interest at heart. My mom has been by my side the whole journey through my current circumstances dealing with the foster care system. At the age of eight, I was placed in foster care because of an unstable home environment. Being taken away from my mother, made me feel angry and alone. As a result, my grades began to slip, and I began to give in to the demands of the inner city. However, despite my unstable beginnings, I learned to set high goals and purse my dreams no matter the odds. I have been given the opportunity to take leadership roles in my church as president of the youth group.
Setting goals for myself helps me be efficient and responsible in my daily activities. Having strong morals allows me to know right from wrong and use positive situations to help me get ahead in life. Having positive thoughts allow me to expand in different aspects of my life. My decision making skills are better and my attitude has become remarkable. All of my goals have been put into work and the next step is college.
Having the chance just to be able to attend a four year university is a blessing. Coming this far and receiving this opportunity of being accepted has enhanced my ability to grow. I know this will be a journey with rocks and bumps and there is going to be a great reward at the end.
Myra H., age 19, Long Beach Career Goal: International Business
You will find that I am not your normal teenage girl. Most people attend one or two high schools throughout their high school careers. I have attended six so far. They have been in different states and even in a different country. After my parents separated in May of my freshman year, my mother decided it was best to start a new life in Mexico. I was upset to be leaving my friends and family here, and since it was late in the year, I also had to retake my freshmen year all over again in Mexico. My mother was in her own world, always thinking about what she was going to do and trying to find a job, so I decided to take the responsibilities that belong to a mother, my mother. A lot of the time I was cooking, cleaning, washing, taking my siblings to school and helping them with any school work. I saw that without doing this, I would watch my family fall apart even more. While caring for my siblings at the age of fourteen, I also attended a high school in Mexico and took six classes in different subject areas. I pushed myself not to give up in school and show my siblings that you can have acceptable grades while being in a difficult situation.
As a family, we made the decision to come back to the U.S, a year later. Unfortunately, at the end of my sophomore year, after only one year back, my siblings and I entered foster care. I believe that this has to be the most stressful situation that I have had to go through, being placed in foster care with two of my siblings and watch the other two placed somewhere else. Since I am the oldest, I had to step up once again and take on most of the same responsibilities I had when I lived in Mexico. I could not let this tragedy tear my family fall apart. It was very difficult not knowing where my mother and my siblings were at the beginning of all of this. I did not know anything about my siblings until a month and a half after being place in foster care.
At the time I was already at my fourth school in my junior year, and I had two goals: to keep my family together and to pursue a higher education no matter the obstacles. At the end of my junior year, I started to talk to my counselor and my older cousins to help me prepare for the transition to college. From them and from talking to students at college tours, I acquired useful information about the college life. I went on college websites and was able to educate myself about college. I am also grateful that I am going to be able to help my younger siblings prepare themselves for that transition as well. I believe that the reward for all my work, stress and self-sacrifice has been to see my siblings happy. Having to go from school to school and from teacher to teacher all in one year and then again the next, has helped me to cope with difficult, stressful situations. These past years have given me the strength I need to deal with problems and it has also give me an experience most people do no go through. I have learned that I can depend on myself to accomplish the things I desire to do.
Michael F., 17, Los Angeles, Career Goal: Criminal Justice
From years of hope, to seconds of shattered glass.... Being tracked into low performing classes, in my early years of education, led me to a different approach to life. In elementary school, it was within my grasp to no longer be a part of special education. I was determined to be competitive in Junior High which eventually led me to the honor of being valedictorian of my class. I have pushed myself to the edge, where if I was to fall, I would pick myself up and try again.
My career interest is to go into the field of law and study criminal Justice. I feel as an individual, I can make a change in society. My long term goal is to eventually become a sheriff after I promote from being a cop. I know their will be many challenges that I will face during the process of accomplishing these goals, however I am determined to reach my destiny. Nothing and no one will deprive me from my dreams. Although it is not necessary to attend a four-year university to become a police officer, I feel the more knowledge I can obtain, the better my opportunities in life. I want to be the first in my family to graduate and succeed in life and say to myself that I made it. I realize that life is not a game but reality. I will not take the road of failure. I realize that I can change and shape the world around me.
Mother's gone! There may be many years to come before we may encounter again. Yet the tears I drown in for her return has kept me waiting over the years. I am left to fend for myself. Being a patron of foster care has been no easy stepping stone. It has not suppressed me from my goals and future achievements, but strengthened me. My mother is gradual dying and it hurts me to be apart of this predicament. She has given me the best life I could ever imagine. She has instilled within me morals and family values. I was born with no form of wealth. I am an individual with the intentions on becoming successful and it is my destiny to pursue my dreams with a great force of determination.
I am not financially able to pay for schooling, however, I feel as though my past academic history will give me some sort of lead into a high achieving school. There is just too much at stake for me to discontinue my dreams. I can no longer live the life of surrealism, but have to step into reality and realize I have the opportunity to better myself. Through the past seventeen years of my life I have no remorse that I wish to take back and alter. All I have is the future ahead of me that I wish to change.