Maria Rocha is a student at Los Angeles City College. She recently received $120 from the Burton Critical Needs and Opportunity Fund to help her pay for internet services.
John Burton Advocates for Youth (JBAY) established the Critical Needs and Opportunity Fund to help young people like Maria. 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.
The path to higher education has been a long and precarious one for Maria, requiring tenacity each step of the way. After entering foster care at birth, her grandmother returned from Mexico and adopted her at the age of 5. Three years later, she moved to Mexico, where she stayed with her biological family until the age of 17.
In Mexico, her family struggled financially and at age 17 Maria decided that she would return to the U.S. to find a job. Despite facing homelessness in Los Angeles, Maria was able to work three jobs to make ends meet. At age 19, she gave birth to her daughter. Now a mother herself, Maria had twice the motivation to stabilize her life and provide economic security for her family.
She enrolled in community college and struggled to learn English. Through a work study position, Maria was referred to the Guardian Scholars program, a specialized program for foster youth that provides academic, social and financial support.
“Everyone there went out of their way to check up on me and give me advice,” she says. “My tutor didn’t just teach me how to write an essay; he showed me how to write my own story. He also introduced me to poetry and made me love literature. He took me beyond what I thought I could do.”
Maria now feels inspired by seeing other former foster youth overcome their obstacles and graduate. “The fact that we’re here proves that we are strong and resilient. The only things missing are the resources that everyone else has.”
According to Maria, this lack of material support is one reason why the Critical Needs and Opportunity Fund is important. “It might not be a lot of money, but it’s a lot to me. In an emergency, I don’t know who I would call. As someone who doesn’t have anyone, it’s just very meaningful.”
Maria will complete her Associate’s degree in psychology next year. In the future, she plans to earn her Bachelor’s degree and pursue a Master’s degree in social work. She is also interested in becoming a director for the Guardian Scholars program, giving back to the community that helped her stay connected in college.