Getting your license is a rite of passage into adulthood. For Blanca, that chance wouldn’t have been possible without Orangewood’s help. “I’m thankful for Katie,” Blanca says. “She waited with me at the DMV for hours, only to find out I didn’t pass.”
Blanca and her Orangewood Youth Support Specialist (YSS), Katie, visited the DMV determined to get Blanca’s written permit to practice driving. A trip together to the DMV for our youth and their YSS is common since most Orangewood youth have a goal to get their driver’s license.
Blanca was placed in the foster care system at six years old. She says, “I don’t think my parents were ready for me.” She was adopted by her aunt and uncle. However, the living arrangement with them wasn’t working out. “I noticed that I didn’t like the person I was becoming living with them,” Blanca says. “I was ditching school and making bad decisions and I realized that wasn’t who I am. I knew I needed to get away from the negative environment, so I applied for a placement request.”
At the age of 17, Blanca moved to a group home where she started to grow as an individual. “It was a relief to have my own space and be around some people that cared,” she says. “I graduated from high school with a 4.0 and I got to speak at my graduation about my journey as a foster youth.”
Blanca’s case worker told her about Orangewood Foundation while Blanca was struggling to apply for college. Blanca seized the opportunity and worked with Katie. “Katie is truthful, caring and relatable,” Blanca says. “If I didn’t have Katie in my life, signing up for school would be so difficult. I wouldn’t even know where to start.” Katie helped Blanca with school and creating her resume for job leads. “Blanca is driven and mature,” Katie says. “I’m really there for emotional support and to provide the resources she needs to succeed, like taking her to the DMV.”
On Blanca’s next try at the written test, she didn’t pass again. After both attempts, Katie took Blanca out for ice cream and went over what went wrong. “She helped me with flash cards and taught me how to study effectively,” Blanca says. After her third attempt, Blanca met Katie with a big smile on her face. She passed!
Each foster youth walks a unique path in their journey from the foster care system to independent adulthood. Often they need our help. Lorena and Vinny turned to Orangewood Foundation for guidance during their journeys.
When Lorena was in high school, she met a few Orangewood staff members through the foster care group home where she was living. “The Orangewood staff basically helped me graduate from high school,” she says. “They were always supportive and encouraging.” Lily Kirkland, an Orangewood Lead Youth Support Specialist, suggested that Lorena apply to the Foundation’s Beverly’s House, a house in Orange for young women transitioning from foster care. Lorena was accepted and moved in when she turned 18. At Beverly’s House she received on-going support from staff. “They helped with school, work, and budgeting,” she says. “If I needed help, they were there no matter what.”
Staff members at Beverly’s House also encouraged Lorena to enroll in the culinary program at Open Gate International, an organization started by Deidre Pujols, wife of Angels first baseman Albert Pujols. The eight week program teaches students a variety of culinary techniques to prepare them for an entry-level position in the food service industry. “They thought it was a good fit for me and it was an opportunity to try something out of my comfort zone,” she says. Her favorite part of the program was the pastry and dessert course. “I like the creative part of decorating,” she explains. “Taking fruit and rearranging them into art that’s edible is really fun!”
Like Lorena, Vinny learned about Orangewood Foundation through his group home. He started visiting the Orangewood Resource Center where staff helped him with job hunting and housing. He also attended Independent Living Program workshops and says, “They were really useful and informative.” He worked with the staff in the resource center to apply to our Rising Tide transitional housing apartments. When he moved into the program, Jim Carson, a now-retired Rising Tide Program Manager, told Vinny about the Open Gate International culinary program. “My favorite part of the course was when we made macarons,” he says. “The guest teacher was really nice.”
Both Lorena and Vinny completed the culinary program. Vinny hopes to work in a small local bakery by the beach. While Lorena’s dream job is to work at Disneyland in their bakery department.
As summer comes to an end, we look back on the new faces that joined the Orangewood Foundation team for the past few months. The Foundation hosted eight Samueli Academy high school interns between their junior and senior year. They proved to be intelligent, inquisitive and professional. Students Karen, Josef and Shelby shared their experiences with us.
Karen interned with the Program Department where she verified grant recipients and updated the youth database. “I definitely learned how to excel in Excel!” Karen said. “I also got to learn how to use Jot Form [an online application tool].” She became fluent in both software programs. The internship also provided Karen the opportunity to see what Orangewood Foundation does for the community. “I liked seeing how the Foundation helps youth who need support, financially and personally,” she said. Karen was thankful for everyone who made the internship possible. She said, “It gave me the opportunity to see how an office works.” After high school, she plans to go to a community college, transfer to Cal State Fullerton to major in business, and ultimately become a real estate agent.
Josef worked on various projects with the Development Department, including helping us get a jump on the busy holiday season. He designed gift request tags for foster youth, redesigned the Foundation’s Christmas Drive signs, and input volunteer hours into our database. Josef also had the opportunity to “jump out of the office and meet donors” during our school supplies drive. “It was great to meet people who gave us hundreds of backpacks for free,” Josef said. During the car rides with Development staff member Humberto, Josef recalled, “We listened to the radio and he gave me some life advice.” Josef noted the Foundation’s culture was not what he expected – an office that was strict and a place where you work only at your desk. “The environment was relaxing, plus we had summer casual dress attire,” Josef said. “It was professional in a learning sense but laid back and friendly when it came to meeting people.” Josef is looking forward to the new school year where he can use the skills he learned from Orangewood Foundation to create a mock business of his own in the Virtual Enterprise class.
Shelby worked as the Marketing intern where she designed brochures and street banners for Samueli Academy. She also had the opportunity to design a new on-boarding “passport” for new employees at Orangewood Foundation. “This internship was a great opportunity to see how marketing was not all about design and working at your desk,” Shelby said. She had a chance to interact with donors and youth at a Foundation event for current and former scholarship students held at the Balboa Island home of a donor. Shelby said, “It was great to hear about the youths’ journeys and see them now in their careers.” In Shelby’s words, the internship was “eye-opening.” In Orangewood’s staff she saw the importance of going into a career that you are passionate about. After graduation in June, she hopes to attend Chapman University as a graphic design or commercial and advertising arts major to explore her passion.
Cat Torres received help from Orangewood Foundation in her teens and twenties. Today, almost a decade later, she is returning the favor with foster and community students at our Samueli Academy public charter high school in Santa Ana.
Cat was placed in the foster care system when she was about 14. She doesn’t remember much about her childhood. She says she shut off that part of her brain. Cat is the second oldest of eight children. Her mom had only a third-grade education and was just 19 when Cat was born. The family moved many times between the U.S. and Mexico and consequently, Cat attended many different elementary schools. She was placed with several foster families before landing in one that provided long-term stability.
She began attending Orangewood’s Independent Living Program workshops, moved into our Rising Tide transitional housing immediately after graduating from high school, and was matched with an adult mentor with whom she texts almost daily. With the help of Orangewood Foundation scholarships, she attended Orange Coast College and transferred to CSUF where she received her Human Services degree in 2009. During that time, she also became an Orangewood Peer Mentor, serving as a friend and role model to youth in the foster care system. When she graduated, she wasn’t quite sure what kind of job she wanted. But she says, “Being a Peer Mentor sort of got me started in my career; it’s what I do today – mentoring youth.”
Cat’s face lights up and she laughs easily when she talks about her job. She is librarian of the Young Adult section at the city of Santa Ana’s Main Library location. The library is very connected with the community and she and her staff help the youth in a variety of ways. “We’re a family,” she says. “We’re there for them.” She supervises the Teen Space, a program with a daily calendar full of activities that includes games, classes and tutoring. She manages dozens of volunteers and interns. She loves her work, especially creating the programs in which, she says with a laugh, “I get to teach the kids but I don’t have to grade them!”
A year ago, she reconnected with the Foundation through Samueli Academy. In the intervening years, Cat had established herself at the library, earned her Master of Library & Information Science degree, married and had two children. At the Samueli Academy’s semi-annual Career Ignition Conference, she led workshops on resume writing for the students. This spring she interviewed Samueli Academy students for their required summer internship between junior and senior year. Cat accepted 10 Samueli Academy interns. Of the Samueli Academy students, Cat says, “There’s definitely a difference with them. They are prepared, well-spoken, and very impressive. I can see all the investment the school is making in them.”
Looking back on the help she received from Orangewood Foundation, Cat smiles and says, “I was a shy and self-conscious kid. Orangewood staff guided and encouraged me. They pushed me to believe in myself.”
For some youth school is a task; for Orlando it was a chance to escape. Orlando explains, “It provided stability. It was going to be there no matter what happened. I was always there.”
While growing up, Orlando saw the struggles of his mother living paycheck to paycheck, trying to support him and his siblings. At one point in his life, the family was living in a motel room, which they called home. When Orlando was 12, his mother was arrested and he and his younger sister, Desiree, were placed into foster care. Orlando didn’t want to follow in the footsteps of his older brother who was in a gang at a young age. So he gravitated towards books and school instead, as a mean of providing a better life for himself and his sister.
In addition to school, Orlando’s focus has always been Desiree. He’s taken care of her since she was a baby. While they were in foster care, he helped her get ready for school each day, making sure her homework was done, and that she was doing well and had the help and support she needed.
By Orlando’s senior year of high school, he was thinking of his future and a way to show his sister a better life. And with that motivation Orlando looked into college. The small high school Orlando went to didn’t have experience helping foster youth. No one in Orlando’s family graduated high school, let alone college. Orlando quickly realized that getting in to and being able to afford college was up to him. He says, “I frantically starting looking into scholarships. I wasn’t even sure scholarships were real.”
It was then that Orlando discovered Orangewood Foundation. Foundation scholarships allowed him the opportunity to focus on school and his education. With Orangewood’s help, he earned a bachelor’s degree from Cal State Northridge. In 2017, thanks in part to Orangewood Advanced Studies scholarships, Orlando received his Master of Social Work from USC. “Receiving the scholarships was a testament that people believed in me when I didn’t really believe in myself.”
Orlando’s sister, Desiree, is also receiving college scholarships from Orangewood Foundation. When he thinks about the time a year from now when she’ll graduate, with tears in his eyes he says, “To see her walk across the steps and receive her diploma, my heart is going to be completely full. Everything that I had to sacrifice was worth it. She’s going to be able to pursue whatever she wants. I’m so incredibly proud of her and her strength.”