[Noozhawk’s note: The names of the foster care youths have been changed to protect their privacy.]
Local teenagers in the foster care system got to play a real-life game of “Life” on March 14 at the Assistance League of Santa Barbara’s “Mock City,” a day of activities designed to teach young people the skills they will need to make their own way in the world when they emancipate from the foster system.
Most of the students participating have been in the foster care system for most, if not all, of their young lives and have not had the stability of a home to learn the skills that will be necessary for them to be able live independently.
Gina, a junior in high school, has attended 11 schools and lived in 13 group homes and foster care situations during her 16 years. Unfortunately, that’s not an uncommon scenario for foster kids.
“I think this is a good event,” she said. “At school they try to help you navigate this stuff, but they don’t really have time to deal with it. I can tell that all the people here really want to be here and want to help.”
Indeed, the desire to help kids who have no one else to turn to was a big motivating factor for Meredith Scott, the volunteer who brought the idea to the Assistance League after seeing a similar project done at Casa Pacifica in Camarillo, and then spearheaded bringing the project to life in Santa Barbara. It was a perfect fit for the Assistance League, which already had an established philanthropy project, “Fostering Friends,” which helps emancipating foster teens make the transition from foster care to independent living by providing them with clothing and other materials essential for school and work, as well as workshops on life skills and a mentorship program.
“Right off the bat, 60 women signed up to help without any prompting, and we’ve added more and more,” Scott said.
Other volunteers included Judge Frank Ochoa, who presided over a mock courthouse where students — who unwittingly received court summons throughout the day with a variety of charges, including marijuana sale and possession, disturbing the peace and delinquent child care — received frank information about the consequences of breaking the law.
Colette Hadley, executive director of the Scholarship Foundation of Santa Barbara, was stationed at the “Consider College” table, talking about financial aid opportunities for college and vocational school. There were also volunteers from the Santa Barbara City College Admissions Office, as well as Antoinette “Tweet” Moreland-Carter and Alana Osaki, co-chairs of the UCSB Guardian Scholars, a special program at the college for students who have been in foster care.
“Tweet” spoke movingly to the younger students about coming to UCSB by herself on a Greyhound bus, alone with her few belongings, while other students arrived at college with multiple parents, siblings and support in evidence.
“There is no way I would still be at UCSB if not for the Guardian Scholars program and Lisa Przekop (associate director of admissions who runs the program),” she said, encouraging others to consider going to college as an option they might not have realized was possible before.
Additional booths ran the gamut, from opening bank and checking accounts to grocery shopping, renting an apartment, credit counseling, navigating public transportation, getting a driver’s license, budgeting advice and mock job interviews, with community volunteers (primarily professionals in the respective fields) staffing booths and assisting the students. In addition to random court summonses, some of the students were also given “children” to take care of, so they had to allot for their needs at the grocery store as well as learn about daycare options. Representatives were also there from gas, electric, phone and cable companies, insurance agencies, health and dental care providers, as well as three branches of the military.
There was even a “how to” booth where students learned to sew a button, leave a proper phone message, tie a necktie and write a thank you note.
“The Mock City event was very well-organized, comprehensive and effective at helping the students,” Hadley said. “I have not participated before at a ‘fair’ that was put together solely for this special population of independent students. It was a wonderful afternoon of meeting the most amazing and resilient young people, who have come from all kinds of challenging and unusual backgrounds. I tip my hat to the outstanding women of the Assistance League, who are hands-on volunteers working every day on tangible projects that make a difference in our community.”
“At first I wasn’t sure, I didn’t really want to come,” said Manuel, a high school senior. “But it was pretty cool. I learned some stuff, and that was good. It made me feel kind of hopeful.”