Since the age of five, Emmerald Evans, JBAY Youth Advocate and former foster youth, has lived in six different cities and attended 10 different schools. Over that decade, Emmerald moved throughout the Bay Area from San Jose to Oakland to East Palo Alto to San Francisco. Moving from city to city, Emmerald was never really able to experience a sense of belonging and home.
“One of the biggest things I wish I had going through the foster care system is consistency. You can’t grow without consistency and stabilization. There is no way that a person is going to find who they are when going from home to home,” said Emmerald. “Let alone be able open up and try to get help from someone they don’t even know…it really is about building relationships.”
During these multiple transitions, the only sense of consistency in Evan’s life was her attorney who she had from the age of 6 to 13.
“My attorney taught me how to advocate for my rights. He inspired me and I really look up to him,” said Emmerald.
It wasn’t until her senior year in high school that Emmerald started to think about applying to college. At the time, she was not even sure if she would be able to graduate from high school at all.
However, this changed once she participated in a program for foster youth in high school and learned about the A-G requirements for the California College system. At this time, Emmerald started taking school more seriously and decided to apply to college. She educated herself about the application process and completed everything on her own.
“Having financial aid literacy as well as support to get through all of the necessary steps in the process is vital. As a foster youth, not having the typical family background, I don’t have access to the types of resources that families typically provide like being able to live at home, having access to reliable transportation and of course getting financial support from family for educational costs like books, supplies, a computer and living expenses. This lack becomes even more challenging when a crisis like COVID-19 happens,” says Emmerald.
In order to ensure that other current and former foster youth have the support they need to advance their education, Emmerald has played a major role in advocating for SB 860, a bill that requires state-funded agencies to assist foster youth in completing their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
Testifying in support of SB 860 in front of the Senate Education Committee, Emmerald affirmed that the new law will allow foster youth to have a reliable support system to help them prepare for college despite the disadvantages that they may face. Thanks in part to her advocacy, Governor Gavin Newsom recently signed SB 860 which will be crucial in increasing access to higher education and the California College system among current and former foster youth.
“Because of my experience, I understand how much advocacy it takes,” said Emmerald.
Inspired by her attorney, Emmerald is pursuing her goals to become an attorney and advocate for foster youth who have faced similar obstacles. The exposure to legal work enlarged Emmerald’s passion for advocacy and inspired her to pursue a higher education in law after completing her degree at Sacramento State University. Along with her advocacy at JBAY, she is one of the founders of the youth advisory boards with the Seneca Family of Agencies, a small Bay Area residential and day treatment program that provides a broad continuum of permanency, mental health, education, and juvenile justice services. As of today, Seneca reaches over 18,000 youth and families throughout California and Washington State each year.
Reflecting on her long term dreams and goals, Emmerald shared that she would like to start a family, get married, and eventually buy a house of her own. She would also like to experience life outside of California and travel the world.