Sometimes life doesn’t go as planned. For Evan, he planned on going to a four-year university but in his freshmen year realized that college may not be for him. Orangewood Foundation was there to support him and create a new plan.
Evan has been working with Orangewood Foundation since 2016 when he was a senior in high school. At that time, Orangewood Youth Support Specialist, Rodrigo, helped him land his first job, open a bank account, and apply for college and scholarships. “When I first met Rodrigo, he was really friendly and focused on my success,” Evan says. “It gave me confidence.”
Evan was accepted into several colleges and decided on one in San Diego County. But in his freshmen year, he struggled. He was the first in his family to go to college. He had difficulty managing his time and the responsibilities of being on his own. “I didn’t leave my dorm. I missed class and something wasn’t right.” Prior to college, school was as an escape for Evan. “High school was great,” he says. He was involved in sports, had a 3.2 GPA and was the commencement speaker. “To me, high school was familiar and constant. When I went to college, it didn’t feel the same.”
Evan made the decision to drop out of college and move back to Orange County to a housing program in Tustin. Evan and Rodrigo moved Evan’s belongings from San Diego and developed a plan for what he wanted to do next. “I tried going to a community college, but I was failing and it wasn’t working,” Evan says. “I didn’t want to make the same mistake again, so I dropped out.”
Rodrigo made it his mission to help Evan find a job. They worked on applying for jobs and interviewing skills. “We did mock interviews at coffee shops a lot,” Rodrigo says. “Evan has a can-do attitude and he always gets down to business. Most youth I work with are usually shy at first, but Evan was never like that.”
Evan’s spirited personality led him to a job at a local bowling alley that he loves. “He did everything on his own,” Rodrigo says. “He applied, interviewed and got the job without my help. I was just there as his supporter.” “I love talking to people and helping others,” Evan says. “I don’t know if I’ll ever go back to college. But I came to the conclusion its ok if I don’t. Sometimes college isn’t for you.” Evan’s future plans include getting his driver’s license and buying a car.
Rodrigo looks back on the progress Evan has made, saying, “I’m amazed on how much he’s improved over the years. He listens well and is very respectful. He gives the best that he has. It is great to see.”
Angel spoke at our 2018 Ambassador Luncheon. Click below to view his journey.
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.