Can $147 make a difference?
According to former foster youth Eliza Aguilar, it most certainly can. Eliza is a student at Diablo Valley College in the Bay Area. She recently received a grant of $147 from the Burton Critical Needs and Opportunity Fund.
Eliza used the funds to pay for the rising cost of gas so that she could get herself to and from doctor’s appointments. She was out of work after her recent brain surgery, which successfully removed a tumor from her pituitary gland.
“Every little bit helps”, she says. “You think it’s not a big deal, but in reality it all adds up. There’s always something that can make your finances go in the wrong direction, that’ll prevent you from getting where you need to go whether it be appointments, school, work, whatever”.
John Burton Advocates for Youth (JBAY) established the Critical Needs and Opportunity Fund to help young people like Eliza. This year, the program will provide direct financial assistance to an estimated 1,000 young people who have been in foster care or experienced homelessness, to pay for unanticipated critical needs and to provide opportunities to develop and enhance their natural talents, which often remain undiscovered. JBAY is working to raise $250,000 to support the fund.
Within the child welfare system, Eliza’s circumstances were surprisingly common. Removed from her biological parents at the age of three, she was later adopted. Unfortunately, she re-entered the system at around age 14 and became homeless at age 17.
Once homeless, Eliza lived on the street and struggled to regain her footing. After several years, Eliza made the decision that she no longer wanted to be unhappy. Determined to get her life together, she got a job and enrolled in school at Diablo Valley College.
Today, Eliza is studying social science, taking a few classes per year while working to support herself. Setbacks, including her recent surgery, have made it necessary to postpone her graduation date. Nevertheless, she is looking forward to graduating with her Associate’s degree and is considering transferring to Cal State East Bay.
“Eliza teaches all of us lessons in determination, resilience and perseverance”, says Amy Lemley, JBAY Executive Director. “We are excited about the Critical Needs and Opportunity Fund and the difference it can make for young people, like Eliza, across California.”
What Eliza wants people to know about being a former foster youth and homeless is that people can be more compassionate, understanding that something so small to someone can be something so big to someone else.
“A little bit really does go a long way” says Eliza. “Any amount of assistance that I can get for being a former foster youth, I’m so appreciative of because it relieves so much stress.”