Shari Walker is a shining example of what resilience, tenacity, hard work and determination look like. The 25-year-old former foster youth and now graduate of California State University Northridge realized the importance of having guidance during high school so she worked hard to create her village of mentors. Today, in her own words, Shari talks about the impact of her 15 mentors and how a new mobile school launching in fall of 2017 will expand foster youth’s education in Los Angeles.
I am certain that every child and young adult transitioning out of foster care needs a village of mentors, a team of people who can give their perspectives, build trust and guide us towards healthy habits and success.
Today, my village encompasses over 15 mentors who have become my family. Each one provides me specific support in every area of life that I missed growing up, like reminding me that my skirt needs to reach my knees in the work place, or when to put down my fork during a business lunch and pass the bread.
Growing up as a former foster youth, I know that it’s extremely hard to focus when life feels broken.
Foster care was a chaotic thing which I had no control of, and education was my safe place. I formed relationships with my high school teachers, counselors and peers who provided me the encouragement, support and stability I needed to succeed. Through my high school counselor, Dr. Amy Radovcic, I was able to remain enrolled at Narbonne High School for all four years, as long as I commuted to and from my first foster home in Inglewood to Harbor City every day. Some days, I commuted up to four hours a day, but it was worth it.
The life-changing power of having a village proved to be true for me two years after I exited the foster care system. I met Stephanie and Neil Everett, whom I now consider my parents.
They not only helped me earn my Associate’s degree from Santa Monica City College and Bachelor’s degree, but they also taught me patience, consistency and authenticity even when I thought I failed. They equipped me with life skills to help me earn internships at major entertainment studios like Warner Bros., Lions Gate and Dick Clark Productions. Above all, they invested both their time and hearts into my academic and career success, even when my negative attitude showed.
While the Everetts provided me hands-on educational guidance and advice for my internships, my Godparents, Jodi and Gregory Perlman, gave me a stipend for a car to travel to my internships and jobs after across Los Angeles. I met Jodi and Gregory, founders of Los Angeles nonprofit, ALL WAYS UP, through another mentor, Niki Gingerfly, who instilled in me that if you work hard, good people will support your efforts.
Said Greg Perlman, “Shari had done all the right things in the face of unimaginable adversity, so it was our honor to help her with the balance she needed to purchase reliable transportation to keep her on the road to success. The goal of ALL WAYS UP is to help people who are equally committed to help themselves, and Shari exemplified that. The possibilities for her life are endless.”
Both the Everetts and the Perlmans pushed me to pursue my dreams and showed me that it’s never too late to make a change. I’ve learned that good people do exist and all they need from you is a willingness to learn and action to confirm that you are prepared to listen and grow.
My village continues to grow as I’ve recently met a new mentor, Beth Ryan, Executive Director of Stepping Forward L.A. Her Mentor Program is unique because it places a group of five accomplished adults with five former and current foster youth and is a community of learning, academic support and career guidance.
Beth Ryan recently met with the team behind RISE High, L.A.’s new mobile school and shared her perspective on the upcoming launch.
“We are so fortunate in Los Angeles to have a high school focusing on the needs of foster youth. This school will be able to provide a consistency in their academics that foster youth have not had due to the many times they move,” Beth said.
From my perspective, a major victory has been won for Los Angeles foster youth. RISE High, known as Revolutionary Individualized Student Experience, will help high school foster and homeless youth in two ways: bring them resources in the form of a new “mobile resource center” and provide them with an online learning system, accessible from anywhere.
Instead of foster youth having to change schools frequently when moving to new foster homes, RISE will bring education directly to them regardless of how far they move. Overall, I think RISE has the opportunity to give foster youth a head start on creating stability in both their relationships and academics–two elements I know I would not have succeeded without.