Foster youth #notastatistic

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Paula Paggi, Pierce Librarian, looks at an informational board at the Foster Youth Exhibit, hosted by the Guardian Scholars Program and CAFYES, on Nov. 21, 2016 at Pierce College in Woodland Hills, Calif.
Paula Paggi, Pierce Librarian, looks at an informational board at the Foster Youth Exhibit, hosted by the Guardian Scholars Program and CAFYES, on Nov. 21, 2016 at Pierce College in Woodland Hills, Calif. Photo: Reza Rastegarrazi

Soccer cleats, a soft teddy bear, and other emotional evoking images lured people into the Foster Youth Exhibit, where students wearing black T-shirts with #notastastic shared their stories about the obstacles they’ve overcome.

On Monday, Nov. 21 members of the Guardian Scholars Program (GSP) and the Cooperating Agencies Foster Youth Educational Support (CAFYES) organized the Foster Youth Exhibit from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. in the Associate Student Organization building.

According to Anafe Robinson, director of financial aid, scholarships, veterans and foster youth, the exhibit’s purpose was to highlight the stories of foster youth and bring awareness to the programs they have available on campus.

“This exhibit was an opportunity to express what their [the GSP and CAFYES] concerns were,” said Nancy Pearlman, Board of Trustees member. “As a trustee, I want to continue to provide all the services for the foster youth who don’t have the support of family in order to be successful.”

For the event, GSP students shared their stories through single images and written accounts of their journies through the foster system or as youth on probation. A few students took to the mic and verbally told attendees about the struggles they’ve overcome.  

“You kind of feel nervous and you think that others might not understand this,” said psychology major Kristie Hawes, member of the GSP.  “You start doubting yourself, but then you think of the greater good.  You think to yourself, ‘You got to get past the anxiety and hopefully this story will affect someone in a positive way.’”

Robinson said that there are approximately 300 self-identified foster youth on campus, but only 116 of them are confirmed and are part of the GSP. The number of foster youth fluctuates each semester.

Marisol Ramirez, a financial aid technician and foster youth coordinator, had the idea of organizing the exhibit after attending a conference in February in Oakland, California.

I heard there was a foster youth exhibit in Oakland and I just couldn’t find it,” Ramirez said. “I had the idea of having my own foster youth exhibit on campus. First it was an idea, then I shared it with vice presidents and deans, and all of them seemed really supportive of my idea.  Having that support really pushed me to get to this point.”

According to Ramirez, the foster youth she works with creates a sense of belonging, and they are resilient and have the drive to accomplish their goals.

“Once they are here at college it’s because they have the resiliency to keep on going, to keep on moving. I’m really proud of all of them,” Ramirez said. “Once they come here, I just help them navigate the system.”

GSP and the CAFYES  provide students a variety of services which include a food pantry and meal tickets so foster youth can buy food on campus from any of the food vendors. They also receive book vouchers to help pay for textbooks, and they receive student grants to help them with other necessities, according to Dean of Student Success Kalynda McLean.

The hashtag “not a statistic” that members of the GSP were wearing was created in 2014, to unite the students in the program.  

“The idea behind #notastatistic is one that grew out of the Guardian Scholars Population because the students recognized that they are much more than a statistic,” McLean said. “Here at the college, we embrace that because we agree that they are not a statistic, and we’re here to support them to become what they are, which is a success. That’s our philosophy.”

Foster youth students involved in the programs create relationships with one another. It becomes a sense of stability, according to Hawes.  

“It made school more familiar,” Hawes said.  “If I have a question I have someone to go to, because when I was growing up, I really didn’t know who to go to for information. My classes are changing, my classmates are changing, but this little program is guiding me through the process.”