A Message from Jon Osaki, Executive Director
Excerpt of 2012 Summer Upclose Newsletter ~ Click here for full newsletter
Over a decade ago, a dear friend and board member of JCYC, Alan Watahara, urged us to consider how we could support the needs of youth in the foster care system. Alan was a children’s lobbyist in Sacramento and was intimately aware of the tremendous challenges of foster youth. Having limited experience working with this population, we were initially concerned about our ability to serve youth with so many complex needs. However, Alan assured us that foster youth want to be treated like any other young person and ultimately just want to know that there are adults in their lives who truly care about their well-being.
In 2002, we reached out to the Human Service Agency of San Francisco and expressed our interest in assisting these young people any way we could. Eventually we were directed to the staff of the Independent Living Skills Program (ILSP) who were extremely open to accepting our help. To pilot our effectiveness in working with foster youth, we raised our own private funds and worked with ILSP to determine how our organization could best augment and leverage their existing services.
Some private funders expressed concerns about whether a Japantown-based youth development organization was culturally competent enough to serve youth in foster care. But, Alan believed that one of the inherent flaws of the child welfare system is that successful youth development organizations are not adequately leveraged to provide the types of experiences that foster youth need the most. Through his support, we remained undaunted by those who did not believe JCYC could or should work with this population.
After a year of partnering with ILSP, HSA launched an initiative to expand ILSP to younger foster youth. JCYC decided to pursue the opportunity and was awarded the contract. Though challenging, the experience of working directly with foster youth was tremendous. Over the next 9 years, JCYC’s role with ILSP would continue to grow and expand. As Alan had envisioned, we were able to leverage our other services to bolster the resources available for participants of ILSP. JCYC’s educational programs were able to provide direct college advising to foster youth, cross train ILSP staff, and coordinate joint college tour trips. We were also successful in leveraging a staff position which helped foster youth access JCYC’s many youth employment programs.
However, sometimes despite your best efforts, there comes a moment when it’s simply time to move on. The child welfare system is made up of such a complex myriad of both internal and external influences that even when you making significant progress, sometimes unfortunate perceptions are formed that make providing these services intolerable.
Though our involvement with ILSP has come to an end, we are extremely grateful for the opportunity to serve these wonderful young people. Even with so many obstacles in their lives, we are so proud of the thousands of foster youth we’ve had the privilege of working with and helping to succeed. All of us at JCYC would also like to express our deep appreciation to the staff of ILSP. Their unwavering commitment to foster youth was inspiring, and we feel truly fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with such great individuals.
In 2005, our friend and mentor Alan Watahara passed away. We will always be incredibly grateful for his guidance, encouragement, and belief in our ability to not only serve foster youth, but to do it well.