"Once a year, we celebrate our young people for outstanding service achievements, offer time for reflection and host a competition. We call it Public Service Pitch Day (PSPD). On May 27th, middle and high school students throughout the Greater Los Angeles County competed for the opportunity to represent the Los Angeles community at the Jefferson Awards taking place on Thursday, September 24! The Hopeful Hands Students In Action team from Sage Oak Charter School is the 2020 regional winner and will be recognized at the Jefferson Awards. The article below was presented by the team as part of its PSPD entry!" -Jackeline Muñoz, Executive Director Multiplying Good  Los Angeles

“No one has ever been honest with me...when my mom left me at the hospital, she said she would come back in two hours, but she never came back and I went into the system.  I want to learn how to be an honest person,” Sussie solemnly expressed as she held a paper labeled “honesty” during a character-building class our team provided at Optimist Youth Homes & Family Services in Woodland Hills, California. After researching the needs of foster teens, the Sage Oak Hopeful Hand’s Team realized foster teens are not afforded the same opportunities and resources that other youths with families receive.

Teens that are placed in foster group homes are constantly moved around due to family and behavioral issues. The rate of mental illness in American teenagers has risen dramatically, but the numbers are even higher for foster teens. A team member's mother worked as a social worker and told us that the most difficult day of her career was having to drive a foster teen to a homeless shelter on her eighteenth birthday. According to the National Foster Youth Institute, "After reaching the age of 18, 20% of the children who were in foster care will become instantly homeless.”

Recognizing the emotional, mental, and educational needs of foster teens, our team set out to make a positive impact on the mental and emotional well-being of foster teens that live in group homes. Overall we implemented three projects to address these needs: Tote of Hope, TAFY, and H.O.P.E. Classes (Helping Other People Succeed).

As we have in past years, we provided over 300 Tote of Hope care bags to both foster children, 150 of which were geared towards foster teens. Tote of Hope care bags are given to foster children and teens during the transitional period of being placed in the foster system. Secondly, we supported a local foster program, TAFY, (Transitional Age Foster Youth) by fundraising and contributing over $280 for their program, which provides transitional age foster students at Citrus College free lunches, birthday/holiday cards/gifts, and life-skills classes. The majority of our effort and time was invested in providing H.O.P.E (Helping Other People Excel) Classes as we felt they were a way to motivate them to seek positive emotional outlets and give them the tools and confidence needed to pursue a successful future.  

We designed specific classes in the areas of art, journaling, life skills, career planning, and character-building.  After, estimating we would need to raise $1,500 for needed supplies and expenses, we ventured out into the community to ask for donations and support. After preparing a donation letter, we presented our project's needs to local businesses. We were anxious about the prospect of speaking to store managers; however, we were well prepared and ended up navigating the pitching process with confidence. Overall, our team leveraged social media, local business support, and a GoFundme account, and as a result, we raised over $8,600 in the month of February!  We submitted our proposal to several youth homes and were excited when Optimist Youth Homes and Family Services in Woodland Hills, Ca agreed to allow us to provide the classes!

Due to California’s foster home age restrictions, we recruited professional adult volunteers to teach the Zentangle Drawing Art Class, Self-Expression Journaling Class, Life Skills & Career Planning Class. Finally, we partnered with Mary Fagnano, from Thrive In Joy, to teach her character-building class, C-11. Our H.O.P.E. classes made a deep, emotional impact on the lives of the 40 foster teens and there will be countless more as we will continue providing them every month going forward. In March, the director of Optimist informed us that they were in need of funds to award their seven Optimist graduates a laptop.

Our team passionately desired to provide each of them with their very own laptop as we felt it was an essential tool they would need for higher education. Amazingly, we provided the seven needed Chromebook laptops to each of the Optimist graduates for their 2020 graduation gift! This year, our team learned that by working together and supporting each other, we could make a greater impact on our world.

By overcoming our fears, we were able to inspire others to partner with us as we poured our hearts and time into making a positive impact in the lives of foster youth. On a personal level, we became more thankful for the support we receive, and in turn, developed a deep desire to offer it to others in need.