Founded in June of 2011 as an official, philanthropic program of the Riverside County Bar Association, Project Graduate works in collaboration with the Riverside Superior Court and Riverside County’s Department of Public Social Services to assist foster youth to graduate high school, to continue their education beyond high school, and to plan for a successful future.
In 2011, members of the Riverside County Bar Association (RCBA) discovered that foster youth have a less-than 50% high school graduation rate - a product of a high likelihood of changing homes multiple times in a school year, enrollment in low-performing schools, and lack of consistent monitoring of their academic progress. As a direct result, they are at high risk for homelessness, unemployment and sexual exploitation when they reach age 18, emancipate out of the foster system, and are left to their own devices at this young, still-impressionable age.
Without the ability to actually foster these at-risk youth, the RCBA attorneys sought a way to help them using the skills and abilities the RCBA has an abundance of: the ability to provide advocacy, representation, guidance and a sympathetic ear. Working with the Department of Social Services (DPSS), a program was developed to provide attorney volunteers to advocate for these young people, and to help them grab hold of the one tool we could give them to lift themselves above the high risk of homelessness and exploitation: successful completion of high school. The RCBA turned to its membership to recruit and train volunteer Educational Representatives. DPSS could then identify the most at-risk foster youth, and match them with those volunteers. A Juvenile Court bench officer would then oversee the students' progress during a monthly Education Calendar.
By approaching their education in this way, all of the foster youth who have successfully completed the program have gone on to continue the academic successes they realized in high school and to use the resources provided to them by the state of California to attend college instead of falling prey to the problems that often lead to homelessness, drug use, and sexual exploitation. We are exceedingly proud of these remarkable students, and we want to continue this crucial work…. but we need your help.
In the few years since the program’s inception, fifteen students have graduated from the program, and all have enrolled in college: one in 2012, two in 2013, two in 2014, four in 2015, and five in 2016. Each year, the number of students who participate in the program has fluctuated based on funding and on the number of attorneys available to volunteer, but the trend has been for the number of student participants to increase each year. In its first year, Project Graduate trained five Educational Representatives. We currently have fourteen RCBA members trained to serve as Educational Representatives, and more are answering the call to serve and are in the process of completing the training they need to become court-appointed Educational Representatives.
The willingness to serve is there, and representatives are available to provide their (extensive) time and attention to the foster youths’ needs, but we lack the resources to provide them with everything they need to succeed. We provide the program graduates with a base-level laptop computer; with a Visa Gift Card reward for the incentive points they earn as they progress through the program by maintaining a high GPA, by attending all their classes and by participating in the leadership and volunteer opportunities offered by their schools; with a plaque commemorating their successful completion of the program; and with a luncheon celebration each June, all of which are paid for by our fundraising efforts. Additionally, when individual students have specific needs, these needs are brought before the Project Graduate steering committee for consideration, but these modest requests often go unfulfilled due to lack of funding.
Please help us to say “yes” to these needy requests and to our continued ability to provide our students with the tools and resources they need to be successful, independent adults. Please help us to encourage those foster youth who take it upon themselves to take the initiative to work hard despite all of the challenges they face, to succeed, and, in turn, to go on to help those that follow in their footsteps.
Project Graduate Needs Volunteers to Mentor Foster Youth!
Project Graduate, an official program of the Riverside County Bar Association, needs volunteers to serve as mentors and educational representatives for foster youth attending high school in the Riverside area who are at risk of not graduating. In 2011-2012, our first year, Project Graduate's RCBA volunteers worked with four students. Three of them made substantial progress, and one graduated and is now enrolled in college. Keep reading to find out how you can help a high school student in the foster system complete high school and develop a plan for her or his future.
The process of becoming a mentor or Educational Representative for these students, is straightforward, involving a background check, a short training program, and appointment by the judicial officer who oversees the Education Court program.
If you can't take on the role of an educational representative or a mentor, there are opportunities to help out on the steering committee, like: helping to organize and present special activities such as career day, keeping track of resources to help education representatives do their work, coordinating volunteer recruiting and training, raising funds for the student incentive program and many other activities.
Donations to the Foundation are accepted at any time. Checks should be made payable to Riverside County Bar Foundation, Inc. and mailed to the following address:
Riverside County Bar Foundation, Inc.
4129 Main Street, Suite #100
Riverside, CA 92501
If you have any questions about Riverside County Bar Foundation, Inc., please contact us via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org