January 8, 2024

JBAY Gala Honors Champions, Raises Over $500,000

JBAY Gala Honors Champions, Raises Over $500,000

On December 14th, John Burton Advocates for Youth (JBAY) invited supporters to the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco to celebrate the strength and tenacity of youth across California who have been in foster care or homeless. The evening was also a tribute to Senator John Burton, who founded the organization with the goal of providing equal access to housing, education, and healthcare for the most vulnerable young people across the state.

The evening was a festive affair which kicked off with a program that brought JBAY board members, staff members, State Senators and a state Commission to the Gold Room stage. JBAY Board President John Garcia thanked JBAY staff and the many elected officials in the room for their service, including the 52 legislative reforms that have been passed, generating $3.6 billion in federal investments. “These outcomes are the result of passion, commitment, and incredibly hard work at every level of the organization,” he said.

The words passion, commitment, and hard work could easily describe the first Burton Champion Award winner of the evening, the California Student Aid Commission (CSAC). CSAC was selected by the Board of Directors of JBAY because of its deep commitment to improving the lives of California’s youth who have experienced foster care or homelessness.

JBAY has worked closely with CSAC for almost a decade, expanding access to the Chafee Education and Training Voucher, streamlining financial aid access for foster youth and increasing rates of completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid among foster youth. At each turn, CSAC has found practical, timely solutions to meet the needs of young people, despite many competing priorities and a complex policy environment.

As Marlene Garcia, CSAC Executive Director, took the stage to come receive the award on behalf of her team, the room erupted in applause. “We look at every program we offer and [the impact] they have on the students we serve. The students are always our priority,” she said.

JBAY Education Project Manager Jessica Petrass then introduced Burton Champion Award winners California State Senators Mike McGuire and Angelique Ashby. Through their tireless efforts, they helped secured $19 million annually to increase college affordability for youth attending college. “Thanks to the amazing support in this room, every foster youth in CA will be able to attend college debt free,” they said as they received their awards.

JBAY Education Project Manager Sarah Pauter shared her own experience as a former foster youth to a rapt crowd. She spoke of her time in the foster care system, her experience with being unstably housed, and the challenges of pursuing education amongst all the tumult. Sarah didn’t gloss over the details of her struggles but says today she’s in a much better place.

“Today, I’m thriving. I’m working toward my dream of someday running for office and I’m raising two unstoppable little humans. Jackson is seven and wants to be a fighter pilot. And Emmeline, who’s five, is living up to her namesake, the suffragette who said: “I incite this meeting to a rebellion!” she said.

According to Executive Director Amy Lemley, the event was a success on multiple fronts. “We raised over $500,000 for our Critical Needs and Opporutnity Fund. This program provides urgently needed financial assistance to youth who have been in foster care or experienced homelessness. We also renewed our collective commitment to sustainability of JBAY. John Burton had the vision to begin this important work and thanks to everyone in the room, it will continue.”