I was just two years old when I was placed in the foster care system in Kern County. I had no one to care for me after my mother went to jail. That was the beginning of a lifetime of instability — where I moved from homes to group homes and from one school to the next.
I’m 23 years old now and have transitioned out of the system, but I still to this day face struggles as a result of my experience in the system.
Throughout my time in foster care, I was placed in 13 stranger’s homes, and I was exposed to a lot. I lived in homes where I was abused and isolated. In some cases, I was seen as just a paycheck. Thankfully, not all homes are like this.
There was not only a lack of stability at home, but also at school. Throughout my high school career, I attended four different schools. I made poor decisions and hung out with the wrong crowd.
Throughout my life, I lacked a mentor. It was especially evident when it was time to transition out of the foster care system. Weeks before aging out of the system, I remember being so anxious and unsure of my plans.
Not much has changed. Although, I am enrolled at Bakersfield College, but I continue to bounce from home to home. If I had someone guiding me in the right direction, maybe my transition could have gone smoother.
The only help I got was a monthly check. Although I am grateful for that check, I received no guidance on how to spend it. It didn’t matter how much was on that check. I wanted and desperately needed a mentor — something the check couldn’t buy.
It wasn’t until I was 22 when I realized how badly I needed a person guiding me in the right direction.
This is something that isn’t all that uncommon, according to Jayme Stuart, the Child and Family Services Coordinator at the Dream Center.
Once youth are transitioned out of foster care, it is common for youth to want to be on their own and embrace their freedom, according to Stuart. It wasn’t until I was a bit older — and made unwise or reckless decisions — when I realized I would have benefited from a mentor.
I know from first-hand experience. I spent my money on useless things. I didn’t enroll in school, and I was homeless for a year.
I wish I would have taken advantage of more of the services the Dream Center provided. I routinely went in to do laundry and shower, but that was about it.
Not only does the center provide a myriad of services, such as housing assistance, mental health services, employee training resources, medical services, school assistance, food and clothing and so much more, but there is also an opportunity to connect with the employees.
“We make an effort to get to know the kids who come regularly,” Stuart said. “We do play that role for them — not as a formal mentor, but we are that source or support for them.”
The number of youth the Dream Center serves continues to grow. The organization serves 800 youth a year, according to Stuart. The organization moved in 2018 to a larger building. The Dream Center works with youth up to 25 years old.
Although the Dream Center provides much help with services, what foster youth really need is a dedicated mentor. Wouldn’t it be great if there were volunteers to provide foster youth with support and guidance, with someone to call just because, and with life skills?
Where can we find those mentors? If you know of programs that could offer guidance to youth transitioning out of foster care, please reach out by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kern Sol News is a youth-led journalism organization in Kern County. In their stories, reporters shine light on health and racial disparities in under-served communities across Kern. For more stories by South Kern Sol, head to southkernsol.org.