Singing, dancing, spoken word… Doesn’t sound like a professional conference, does it? Well, these activities and more were part of John Burton Advocates for Youth’s (JBAY) Blueprint Conference in Los Angeles on October 3rd and 4th.
JBAY set a new record with 700 registered attendees, including over 140 current and former foster youth enrolled in college. Attendees came from over 350 campuses and community organizations from California and across the country.
Astha Agarwal, a PhD student in the School Psychology Program at UC Berkeley, shared, “It was my first time being at a conference where so many of the speakers had lived experience in the systems they were talking about. Every single person made me feel like I belonged.”
Another student shared that the conference was truly empowering. “It created the launch pad for me to conquer the world!”
During the two-day event, attendees engaged in a series of workshops and networking opportunities, all focused on how to better support foster youth in achieving their higher education goals.
Although conferences are often reserved for adult professionals, JBAY’s Blueprint Conference also intends to uplift the voices of youth who have had direct experience in the foster care system. JBAY provided scholarships to current and former foster youth to attend the conference and completed a special youth-centered pre-conference training, where they gained new knowledge on foster care policy issues and other leadership skills.
According to Debbie Raucher, JBAY’s Director of Education, “The energy at this year’s event was amazing. People were delighted to be back together again in person, learning from their colleagues and experts in the field. So many attendees, both students and professionals, shared with me how thrilled they were to be able to attend.”
Along with an array of breakout sessions, the event featured several inspiring keynote speakers: Hasan Davis, former Kentucky Commissioner of Juvenile Justice and “dealer of hope for all students”; and David Ambroz, a longtime child welfare advocate and author of a new memoir, A Place Called Home. Arise Energy led a music-based opening and closing session, leaving participants feeling energized and rejuvenated in their work.
Thank you to JBAY sponsors and supporters who made this conference possible. This includes the Angell Foundation, California Wellness Foundation, Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, Kaiser Permanente, Pritzker Foster Care Initiative, May and Stanley Smith Charitable Trust, Stuart Foundation, Walter S. Johnson Foundation, and Reissa Foundation.
JBAY Executive Director Amy Lemley was inspired by the authentic engagement of both youth and campus professionals. “Blueprint is more than a conference–it’s a movement to make college within reach for every foster youth. This year was a true celebration of what we have accomplished and renewed my faith that together we can achieve our goal.”