HEBER â€“ Beating the odds, a group of youths placed in foster care gathered Friday afternoon at the Twin Dragon Restaurant to celebrate the major milestone of earning high school diplomas. Their extraordinary achievement was earned despite many suffering uncertainty, abuse, neglect, and having a history of involvement in Child Protective Services. The celebration event was sponsored by the Imperial Valley Regional Occupational Program (IVROP) and the Imperial County Department of Social Services (ICDSS).
In a nation where foster care youthÂ areÂ statistically less likely to finish high school and more likely to experience teen pregnancies, poverty, unemployment, and homelessness, their accomplishments are noteworthy and an important first step towards success and stability.
â€œThis is a special moment for all of these young men and women who are here celebrating a big step in their lives and beating statistics,â€ said Luis Torres, manager of the IVROP Project ACE Program. â€œWe (ACE Program) want to recognize them for all of their hard work.â€
According to Torres, nationwide statistics show only 50 percent of foster youth graduate from high school. This year, he said, the IVROP Project ACE Program successfully had one hundred percent of their students graduate compared to past years where only 80 percent received high school diplomas.
Graduates included Genesis Calderon, Francisco Rodriguez, Angelica Cortez, Vanessa Perkins, Luis Lopez, Ashley Moreno, Ariana Flores, Saray Benavidez, Ryan Gonzalez, Alejandro Ahumada and Crystal MadueÃ±o.
Additionally, several other former foster youths were recognized for their continued achievements in college.
â€œRecognizing these former students here is important because they motivate the graduating class to continue and pursue a higher education,â€ said Torres.
Torres recognized and honored a former student, Betsy Pino, for her continued support to the Project ACE students and her goals to become a social worker.
â€œOur students always come back and say they want to help the foster youth, but it rarely happens,â€ said Torres. â€œBut in 2016 it was different. Six months ago, Betsy Pino started a council center for our foster youth. She runs the meetings and doesnâ€™t receive any pay and on top of that, sometime soon she will be a social worker.â€
Currently, Pino is taking general education classes at Imperial Valley College and later will transfer to Yuma to major in social services.
â€œMy goal is to become a social worker or a counselor one day so I can help the foster youth,â€ said Pino. â€œI am always ready to help and am proud of what I do, and feel much appreciated. I used to be in foster care and know the struggles and that is why this has become a goal of mine. All foster youth should be able to achieve what they want.”
Director of Social Services Peggy Price said it was a wonderful collaborative effort between the IVROP Project ACE Program and the Department of Social Services and said the program has had a positive impact on Imperial Valley foster youth.
â€œToday we celebrate your accomplishments,â€ said Price. â€œYou are the experts. You are the voice. Locally and foster care policy makers legislators need your voice when decisions are made that affect foster youth. Stay connected. We are your supporters and mentors.â€
Torres thanked the numerous foster parents who attended the ceremony and said without the help of foster parents, the students would not have finished high school or obtained high school diplomas.
â€œI have been part of this program for ten years and I love what I do,â€ said Torres. â€œIt is very rewarding to me. The public may not realize how many things these young people go through to get to where they are now. If they knew they would understand.â€
At the graduation party, the youths received gift baskets, certificates, and lots of hugs, kisses and well-wishes.[envira-gallery id=”79739″]