How many of us are actually an adult when we turn 18? Think about this, what if you got cut off from money, food and shelter the day you turned 18, how would things have worked out for you?
For thousands of foster youth throughout California their 18th birthday isn’t exactly something to celebrate. Anthony Serrano, a 2011 Turlock High School graduate, recently turned 18 and was emancipated from the foster youth system. He said in the months leading up to his birthday he felt a sense of anxiety and fear, as well he should have.
More than 65 percent of foster youth leave the system without a place to live and more than half will be incarcerated, suffer drug abuse and will live in poverty.
But Serrano is lucky enough to have been part of an extraordinary support system through Creative Alternatives, a Central Valley-based non-profit organization that operates residential homes, foster care facilities and assists transitioning foster youth.
In May Creative Alternatives began a program known as Y.E.S, or Youth Empowerment for Success. The YES program is a proactive approach to teaching foster youth independent living skills that are often missed during their tenure in the system.
Serrano said the YES program was extremely helpful for him.
“They helped me to produce the skills I need to make in life — how to manage money, how to open and keep a bank account, get a job, how not to lose a job and even cooking basics,” he said.
Perhaps more importantly, YES creator Dan Mills, Creative Alternatives emancipation and workability coordinator, has reached out to local businesses in order to help transitioning foster youth land the all-important first job.
“For many foster youth getting a job is extremely difficult. They never had anyone sit down and show them how to write a resume or a cover letter and many have never even had a job or any work experience to put down on their application,” said Mills.
Through YES Serrano obtained his first job as a dishwasher at Frost Bakery and Café in downtown Turlock.
When Frost owner Shelly Koch heard about the YES program she felt a strong call to help.
“This is close to me because I have a brother and sister who had foster kids and later adopted them. There isn’t enough support for these kids and it’s been such a reward to teach Anthony the skills he needs to be a responsible adult,” she said.
Serrano is well-liked and respected at Frost. He is known for his smile, good attitude, enthusiasm to learn and his willingness to lend a hand to other workers.
“He’s not just an employee to us; we’ve kind of taken him under our wing. He’s really been a pleasure to have work here,” said Koch.
“Every now and then he will stay after and help with whatever he can. He’s a good worker and he is very polite,” said co-worker Brittni Harris. “I think it’s great the program he is in because it gets people in the workforce when (they) wouldn’t normally have a chance.”
Serrano has worked at Frost for only a matter of months but considers his employment as the foundation for his future not only in the workplace but in life.
“I honestly didn’t think that I would like it that much at first, but now I love it. The people here are great and I look forward to come into work,” he said. “I plan on working here part-time while I attend Modesto Junior College in the fall.”
After MJC he said he would like to transfer to California State University, Stanislaus and major in business administration, continuing on with a master’s degree. He is also considering joining the Navy. Serrano participated in the Navy Junior Reserves Officer Training Corps while at Turlock High School and he considered the experience “fun and motivating.”
“I have a lot of options right now and I eventually will make a decision, but right now I’m just so thankful for this job every day and the help I’ve got from Creative Alternatives. I couldn’t be the person I am now or want to be without their help,” he said. “I know that you can’t do much in this world without an education.”
Last week Serrano got good news as he has transitioned out of the foster system. He moved into a home with a local provider, Sabryna Green.
“I took him in because of the way the last group home treated him and he was just going to be thrown out onto the street. This is not the responsible way for a child to become a man in this world,” said Green.
For more information on the YES program and how businesses can sponsor foster youth, call Dan Mills at 668-9361 or visit www.creativealternatives.org.
To contact Jonathan McCorkell, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 634-9141 ext. 2015.