A group of Santa Maria foster youth who participated enthusiastically this summer in a leadership camp organized by the Santa Barbara County Education Office’s Transitional Youth Services program will be honored at a ceremony Friday.

“This remarkable group of teenagers devoted five weeks of their summer break to attend a fun yet challenging camp designed to develop confidence, leadership abilities, and clear academic and career goals,” program manager Bonnie Beedles said. “The teens themselves helped to lead the camp’s activities, and named the camp LEGIT, an acronym for Leaders Establishing Great Ideas for Tomorrow.”

Inspired by their experience, students have begun making plans to apply their new leadership skills to an advocacy effort for all foster youth, she added.

Invited guests for Friday’s celebration, including local elected officials and representatives of state and congressional officials, will help to honor the effort, perseverance and resilience of the nine students in the Transitional Youth Services (TYS) Leadership Camp.

This leadership camp and other programs can make a big impact on children’s lives because youth in foster care experience a high degree of home and school instability, Beedles said, and at any given point, Santa Barbara County has more than 600 babies, children and youth in foster care. About 25 percent of Santa Barbara’s foster youth are placed out-of-county, with about 80 percent of the others living in foster and group homes in Santa Maria and Lompoc.

Foster care placements can change frequently, and for teenagers in particular, finding placements — especially stable ones — is a continuing challenge for social service providers. Many foster care teens live in group homes, missing out on the kind of individual support available in family environments.

Frequent home and school changes coupled with an absence of consistent adult encouragement and support tend to lower students’ academic and life aspirations, and therefore their levels of engagement and achievement, Beedles said. Programs such as the leadership camp can help turn around these youths’ poor self-images, raise their aspirations and help them succeed in school and life. The county-wide TYS program is designed to help offset the academic challenges of students in foster care, as well as homeless youth, by providing tutoring, after-school programs, college and career advising, general support and advocacy, information and referrals, and school supplies.

The LEGIT camp was designed and conducted by TYS liaisons Rosa Valle-Rico, Nancy Pacheco and Natalia Corral, under Beedles’ direction.

Invited guests for Friday’s celebration include Santa Maria Mayor Alice Patino and City Councilwoman Terri Zuniga; Santa Barbara County Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino; state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson; aide Raymond Morua from the office of Rep. Lois Capps and former Santa Maria City Councilwoman Hilda Zacarías.

— Dave Bemis is the communications director for the Santa Barbara County Education Office.