Fostering Independence with FYI
Family isn’t always blood. It’s the people in life who genuinely love, trust, care about and look out for each other.
Local nonprofit Fostering Youth Independence (FYI) is like family for many in the Santa Clarita Valley. Started by three women in March of 2017, this organization is pairing local youth with trained mentors called “Allies” to walk alongside them during the transitional period known as aging out of the system.
“Our mission is to equip foster youth to complete post-secondary education and become successful, independent adults,” FYI Executive Director and Co-Founder Carolyn Olsen said.
Carolyn was introduced to the foster care system in 2016 when she became a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) and was assigned to a 17-year-old foster youth. “At our first meeting, the youth told me she wanted to go to college but had no idea how to go about it,” she said. “I did some research and learned about the resources for foster youth. They can go to any community college in California for free and are eligible for grants that will pay up to $11,000 per year. But without parental support, most don’t know what is available and how to apply for it.”
Carolyn joined forces with Gina Stevens, a former foster parent to two teenagers, and Stacey Anton, a former public health nurse. The three spent countless hours researching statistics, reading stories and consulting experts. They discovered that each year, in L.A. County alone, 1,400 youth age out of the foster care system, reaching adulthood without being adopted or reunified with their birth parents. Only 55% will have a high school diploma, and only 3% will graduate college with a Bachelors Degree. Firmly believing that caring adults and post-secondary education were critical to youth overcoming poverty and becoming productive members of society, the three launched FYI.
Since then, they have helped 48 youth. Currently, there are 30 in the program. “Our goal is to help as many youth as we can, but to grow we need funding for staff to oversee the volunteers and youth,” Carolyn said.
Altogether, FYI has 50 volunteers who serve in various capacities. Majority of those are “Allies,” committed members of the community who undergo a background check and a 2-hour training session. To the youth, “Allies” are more than just someone who checks in on them. Recently, one 20-year-old foster youth was involved in a major car accident. Her air bags deployed, her car was totaled, and she was injured. When the responder asked about calling her parents, she responded, “My parents are dead, call my Ally.” Her Ally arrived at the scene just in time to speak with the police before she was rushed to the emergency room. She followed the ambulance to the hospital and stayed with her all night so that she wouldn’t have to be alone. This begs the question, ‘Who do all the youth aging out of foster care without any dependable adults in their lives call when they have an emergency?’ “What FYI does is so much more than connecting youth to resources and making sure they secure financial aid,” Carolyn said, “FYI provides each youth with a caring adult and a consistent community that offers the safety net they are missing.”
FYI also offers events for youth to participate in. For their holiday party, everyone received matching pajamas, personalized stockings and gifts from generous donors. Other events include an end of school celebration and in August, a back-to-school event in which supplies are donated.
FYI’s biggest need is funding. For more information or to donate, visit www.fyifosteryouth.org.
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