In 2009, after more than a decade of managing information technology departments, in Fortune 500 companies, education, and government, I decided to embark on a new career. With the help of my former colleagues at the University of California, Berkeley, SOAR for Youth was established to provide the intense training and support that would empower teen-aged foster youth to finish high school, attend college, and succeed in life with a purpose. We want the young people we serve to receive the high-quality support, opportunities and rapport they need to become independent and productive members of our society.
Why would a person who enjoyed a fulfilling management career move to work in foster youth services with no pay and many challenges? The inspiration came when a manager in my department told me how he and his siblings were abused by their foster parent, his aunt, after their parents died. His story opened my eyes and my soul to the needs of these children.
Today, SOAR for Youth is where foster youth learn to beat the odds and become successful young adults. Each youth (ages 11-19) receives 5-8 years of sustained support from middle school through the first year of college. Nationally about 50% of foster youth complete high school by the age of 18 and only 20% of these graduates attend college. In comparison, 95% of our high school seniors have graduated on time and 92% of these graduates have gone on to college. Despite the uncertainty in our youths’ lives, we are proud of our high retention rate.
Our program is grounded in the active engagement of many volunteers, including professionals and student mentors, rather than relying solely on paid staff. From organizational sponsors to the many individuals who donate their time and expertise, our caring presence and respectful yet firm guidance have shown our participants that their commitment and effort will result in success. These young people have experienced many disappointments in their lives; only by demonstrating the collective action of a broad community of supporters can we gain their trust and begin to foster true change for their futures.
This is the best “paying” job I have ever had. I invite you to partner with SOAR for Youth. The gifts we receive are investments that will yield significant returns in many ways, not the least of which is hope for a bright future for these vulnerable kids. Please consider volunteering or making a tax-deductible contribution today to give the Bay Area foster youth a chance to soar.