May 23, 2024

Celebrating Success: Four JBAY Youth Advocates Graduate and Inspire at Commencements

Celebrating Success: Four JBAY Youth Advocates Graduate and Inspire at Commencements

May is graduation season and here at John Burton Advocates for Youth (JBAY), we are delighted to share the good news about four JBAY Youth Advocates who are crossing the stage and receiving their degrees.

The first is Wednesday Pope, who received four Associate’s Degrees from Folsom Lake College, including two transfer degrees in Business Administration and Economics. Wednesday was the featured commencement speaker, selected from a graduating class of several hundred students. Wednesday plans to transfer to a four-year university to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration.

JBAY’s Director of Housing and Economic Mobility Simone Tureck Lee was in the audience to hear Wednesday’s speech, “Wednesday’s perseverance is incredibly admirable. She hasn’t allowed obstacles to prevent her from reaching her educational goals that would have surely deterred most young adults. That same ambition and fearlessness she brings to school and life, I see her bring to her work as an advocate at JBAY.”

Next up is Cody Van Felden, who received her Bachelor’s Degree from Sacramento State. During the commencement, Cody was recognized by Sacramento State President Luke Wood, who is also a former foster youth. Cody has been involved with JBAY for over four years, first as a Youth Advocate and currently as a Youth Advocate Mentor. She will join the staff of JBAY as a Project Associate in October.

JBAY Youth Advocate Taneil Franklin will also walk the stage, receiving an Associate’s Degree in political science from LA Trade Tech. Taneil joined JBAY’s Youth Advocate team in 2023 and represents JBAY in its LA-focused efforts. Educationally, her goal is to pursue her bachelor’s degree at Howard University. 

Finally, former JBAY Youth Advocate Junely Merwin received her Master’s Degree in higher education from Cal State Fullerton. Junely was a teen parent herself and as part of her work with Public Counsel, advocated for an increase to the monthly payment provided to young parents in foster care. Junely joined the JBAY Youth Advocacy team in 2021. 

Junely was also selected to be the commencement speaker. Learn more about her path to receiving an advanced degree in her remarks, starting at minute 47. According to Junely, “This master’s degree in higher education is a tribute to foster youth and the support they all deserve. I am committed to paving paths for them to succeed.”

JBAY Executive Director Amy Lemley reflected on all these young adults have achieved and what it means for foster youth, “Today in California, higher education is within reach for foster youth. Here at JBAY, we are so proud of their hard work and of the policy reforms that have supported their journey.”