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Today in
S.C.V. History
September 25
1970 - Lagasse family helps save Mentryville buildings as Newhall and Malibu brush fires erupt & join into worst fire in SoCal history. Twelve fires over 10 days burn 525,000 acres, kill 13 people and destroy approx. 1,500 structures. [story]
Clampitt fire

Santa Clarita Valley nonprofit Fostering Youth Independence recently held a “Celebration of Everything,” its annual event in appreciation of the many volunteers who make such a difference in the lives of SCV foster youth, 15 of whom were celebrated for education milestones.

Nearly 160 people came together for FYI’s celebration, which thanked the organization’s 90 volunteers for all they do to support local foster youth and also honored 15 new graduates: five youth received high school diplomas, two completed certificate programs, one completed requirements for transfer, three received associate degrees, three received bachelor’s degrees and one youth received a master’s degree.

FYI also thanked the organization’s 90 volunteers, who include Allies, tutors, support volunteers and board members, and additionally celebrated the 25 “First Step” youth who joined the FYI community this year, as well as the nine youth who obtained their driver’s licenses through FYI’s “Ready, Set Drive!” program.

FYI supports the SCV’s transition age foster youth (ages 16 to 25) with needed resources as they age out of the foster system and work to complete a post-secondary education to prepare to become successful, independent adults.

“It is a tremendous honor that I get to brag about our phenomenal youth,” Gina Stevens, program director and co-founder of FYI. “Every youth in this room has achieved something to be proud of this year. I want to thank each one of you for being brave enough to allow FYI into your lives, perseverant enough to keep pushing yourself despite the challenges, and strong enough to get up every day to fight for a future you have always deserved.”

One of the youths celebrated during the event, Aaron Hofmann, graduated with honors from California State University, Northridge with a degree in engineering.

Hoffman delivered an inspiring message to his peers.

“You didn’t deserve to experience undue hardship in your life, none of us did, but you still went through these experiences for a reason: to strengthen you and form you into a formidable young man or woman, capable of overcoming any challenge laid before you, most certainly including a university degree,” he said. “In those dark times when you’re just about to give up, remember your purpose. Whether you’re hoping to work on a dream project in a career, support your younger siblings, or start a family of your own one day, remember that purpose when you’re ready to quit. I’ll put it together in one sentence, it is the lessons you learn from the challenges you overcome today that make possible your dreams in the future.”

Also offering inspirational words was Jason Gibbs, mayor of the city of Santa Clarita, who gave the keynote address at the event.

“Fostering Youth Independence truly is that beacon of hope that we have here in our community,” Gibbs said. “It offers vital support and guidance to our foster youth to limit barriers so that these young adults can pursue their dreams and reach their goals.”

Gibbs continued with advice to the assembled youths.

“The world does not define who or what you will become,” he said. “You do. While my story is unique to who I am, and the trials and tribulations that bring us together are different. Your stories, your adversities and your triumphs are unique to who you are. Being with us today and recognized for your successes demonstrates to the world that hardships, challenges and the odds against you will never define what potential you have or what you can be. Tonight is a culmination of your journey thus far. But it is also just the beginning. Your dreams, and even the dreams you haven’t had yet, are waiting for you to make them come true.”

Sabrina Farias, was celebrated for earning her master’s degree.

“I have been a part of FYI since 2017. I was paired with an amazing Ally, Debbie. I met Debbie at a time in my life when I had no contact with family. I was hesitant to trust that someone genuinely wanted a relationship with me,” she said. “My education was always my top priority because it was something I had control of and no one could take from me. I began my educational journey at College of the Canyons where I graduated with my Associate’s degree. Debbie was sitting in the crowd cheering me on. I then transferred to the University of La Verne and obtained my bachelor’s degree. To become a teacher, I needed to continue my education so I applied for the joint multiple-subject credential and master’s graduate program. I worked hard to finish this goal. As of today, I am now a former foster youth who has a master’s degree and joint multiple-subject credential. And once again, Debbie was in the crowd cheering me on at my graduation. And I also thank my FYI Coordinator, Diane, for the countless hours she spent helping me when I wanted to give up.”

A presentation of a number of scholarships was also a highlight of the evening.

Dora Lozano, Foster Youth Academic Counselor for College of the Canyons, awarded scholarships to eight FYI youth, from a Foundation she started to support the school’s foster youth. Additionally, The Rotary Club of Santa Clarita Valley surprised an additional four students with scholarships presented by Diane Kenney, the club’s president.

Several youth made heartfelt comments about how much their Allies mean to them as they have been preparing for a life of independent living.

The graduation of FYI’s youth was especially impressive given that only 55% of foster youth graduate from high school. Outcomes for former foster youth are poor, with half becoming homeless or incarcerated within two years of aging out of the system. Only 4% go on to earn a bachelor’s degree and rates of unemployment and poverty are high.

“FYI and our incredible Allies and volunteers are working hard to break this cycle for foster youth,” said Carolyn Olsen, FYI’s executive director and co-founder. “FYI is a unique community, really a big, giant family made up of capable young people who have entrusted us to help guide them to the future they deserve, and a group of volunteers and staff who are united by their care for and commitment to these incredible youth.”

Olsen added that FYI has been “blessed with an abundance of people who are making a difference in the lives of young people aging out of the foster care system.”

The event also included Olsen’s thanks to sponsors who generously supported the event including Harris & Sloan, Holly Thompson Homes, KPMG and Shepard Insurance Agency. Photography for the evening was generously donated by Rob Comeau Media Productions.

“Their sponsorships show that there are many in our community who truly care about our foster youth, and for their support we are truly grateful,” Olsen said.

FYI is the largest SCV-based nonprofit supporting local foster youth who have aged out of the Los Angeles County foster care system without being adopted or reunified with their birth parents. FYI addresses the serious challenges faced by these youth, which include not finishing high school or pursuing higher education, homelessness and incarceration. FYI offers local foster youth numerous resources to help overcome past traumas, complete an education, gain employment and become successful, independent adults.

FYI currently serves 76 transition age (16-25 years) foster youth in the SCV and has supported 147 local youth since its inception in 2017.

Further information about Fostering Youth Independence and ways to become involved, support and donate can be found on www.fyifosteryouth.org or by calling (661) 360-1500.

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