California Youth Connection Turns 30: Three Decades of Foster Youth Leading the Way

Members and supporters at CYC’s 30th anniversary celebration. (Photo credit: David Miller)

Three decades ago, a group of foster youth who wanted to drive like average teenagers came together to fight for the right to obtain driver’s licenses. 

When these teens founded California Youth Connection in 1988, it was the only foster care advocacy organization led by youth themselves. Thirty chapters later and the spark that was lit by those passionate youth has taken off like wildfire, going on to impact the foster system in ways those founding members likely never imagined — from passing AB 12, extending foster care benefits through age 21, to securing sibling visitation rights.

The Chronicle of Social Change stopped by CYC’s 30th anniversary bash in downtown Los Angeles and talked members and supporters about their biggest accomplishments, best memories and highest hopes for the future of CYC.

Haydée Cuza addressing the crowd at CYC’s 30th anniversary party. (Photo: David Miller)

Haydée Cuza, executive director and founding member

“Honestly, the first very thing we had to do was educate people about who we were, because the legislators didn’t know who foster youth were. And they didn’t even know that they were making laws that directly impacted our lives. So now we take it for granted that we get to go to Sacramento and have a day at the capitol, but back then they didn’t even know us.”

Cindy Barrera (Photo Credit: David Miller)

Cindy Barrera, 20, Statewide Membership Council Co-Chair, Pasadena Chapter, 4 years with CYC

“We empower each other, we cry together, we have fun together and we work together. We put our hearts into it.

“I see so many accomplishments [in the future], I see so many campaigns. I would want to work on [the Continuum of Care Reform] because we have so many group homes in Pasadena, and I would want to know how we could support those homes.”

Franklin Ovula (Photo credit: David Miller)

Franklin Avila, 20, Central LA Chapter,  2 years with CYC

“We actually get a lot of work done there’s a lot of work behind the scenes that people don’t know about, but when we all come together we get a ton of work done.”

Earnie Sharod (Photo credit: David Miller)

Earnie Sherrard, Adult Supporter since 1994

“[The biggest accomplishment has been] winning over Sacramento. When we first went to Sacramento they thought that foster youth were the bad kids. Every kid that’s in foster care is there not because of what they did but because of what someone else did to them. It took about 4 or 5 years before we could get them to realize what foster care was all about.”

Marcellia Goodrich (Photo Credit: David Miller)
Marcellia Goodrich, 28, Long Beach Chapter
“We’re working on homeless prevention and self care and getting youth the resources they need as they transition out. Most of us were kicked out at 18 but [with AB 12] the next generation was able to get it extended.”
Noel Perez (Photo credit: David Miller)

Norell Perez, 29, Long Beach Chapter

“We made a cook-book called Recipes for Life. And it’s for transitioning foster youth and I think that’s a big play in teaching foster youth how to cook and take care of themselves. I hope that we involve some gardening in out future. If you’re talking about feeding the youth and growing the youth you have to feed them something healthy right?”

Kimberly Gordonet. (Photo credit: David Miller)

Kimberly Gordonet, San Bernardino Chapter, 1.5 years with CYC

“Your past doesn’t determine who you’re going to become, and it doesn’t determine how successful you’re going to be. I feel like CYC has taught me that, and now that I have that platform I can let other foster youth know that they can really be whatever they want as long as they push themselves.”

Correction: This post originally misspelled the names of Franklin Avila, Norell Perez, and Earnie Sherrard. Those errors have been fixed.
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