2009-01-30 / Neighbors

Foster youth group advocates self-empowerment

Local chapter lobbies state lawmakers
By Michelle Knight knight@theacorn.com

WENDY PIERRO/Acorn Newspapers GETTING HEARD—Former Casa Pacifica resident and current Casa Pacifica Youth Advocate Cristina Miranda,  left,  and  adult  supporter  Larry  Miller  listen  during  a  meeting  of  the  California Youth Connection Jan. 20 at the Camarillo-based shelter for abused children. WENDY PIERRO/Acorn Newspapers GETTING HEARD—Former Casa Pacifica resident and current Casa Pacifica Youth Advocate Cristina Miranda, left, and adult supporter Larry Miller listen during a meeting of the California Youth Connection Jan. 20 at the Camarillo-based shelter for abused children. Five Ventura County foster youths visited the state Capitol earlier this week and told elected officials they need more help to get through college.

The adolescents—members of the California Youth Connection, a statewide advocacy group of current and former foster youths—joined about 150 of their peers and adult supporters from around the state from Jan. 24 to 26 at a threeday workshop known as Day at the Capitol.

Each year, the nonprofit group conducts the workshop to train its members how to speak to legislators and advocate for changes that affect foster youths. By Monday the young people were prepared and went in groups to visit the legislators from their area.

One member presented the problem: the need for more support in college; another told their personal story, and another pushed the solution: former foster youths want help navigating campus life and need year-round housing.

"I think I did good," said an adolescent boy who told the five legislators representing Ventura County his story of abuse and neglect before he came to live at Casa Pacifica, a treatment and crisiscare facility in Camarillo for abused, emotionally disturbed and severely neglected children.

When speaking, his body went numb from fear, he said. But "I felt good," he said. "After we were done, I gave a highfive to everyone."

Foster youths speaking to legislators and advocating for change is very effective, said Charys, 17, who lives in a group home, attended the event last year and served as workshop facilitator this year. She's vice president of the Ventura County chapter.

"We've gotten several bills passed to change the foster care system," she said. "It's very, very empowering for all the youth."

Raquel Montes, 24, revived the Ventura County chapter about a year ago after it had been dormant for five years. Montes, who grew up in foster care since age 12 and remembers attending chapter meetings as a young girl, had to get letters of approval from elected officials and submit them to CYC officials.

The chapter officially came back online in November 2007.

"It was a pretty big accomplishment for myself and our county," said Montes, a sociology major at California State University Channel Islands and a Casa Pacifica employee.

CYC membership is free and open to current and former foster youths ages 14 to 24. Members run the organization, make the rules and set the goals. Adult supporters guide them when asked to do so.

"We want the foster youth to know that they have a voice and that if they want to make changes in the foster care system there is a way," said CYC member Cristina Miranda, 22.

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