City Youth Now is proud to be a part of the fabric of the foster care and juvenile justice systems in San Francisco. Daily, our staff and volunteers meet some truly extraordinary young people in our city. We invite you to take a few moments to learn about the young people whom City Youth Now is working diligently to help transition successfully to stable adulthood. All of the youth whom we serve are unique, talented, and remarkable young people who just need that one person to invest in them, to believe in them, and to support them during their childhood.

Featured Story: Shannon Chain

Shannon Chain grew up in San Francisco in a chaotic household with a severely schizophrenic mother. Her mother was so ill she was unable to provide the basic necessities of life like clothing, food, and shelter. They moved constantly, were sometimes homeless, and ate at soup kitchens to survive.

At age nine, Shannon dropped out of school. She was essentially “wild on the streets” from the age of seven on. At thirteen, Shannon met Frank Moran, a probation officer at Juvenile Justice Center, and at fourteen City Youth Now began paying for Shannon to take ballet lessons. These two events were life-changing for Shannon. She began summer school at the Juvenile Justice Center to catch up on the years she had missed and made the choice to leave her mother and enter the foster care system. She began a part-time job at City Youth Now, re-entered public school, and began to seriously train as a ballet dancer.

At eighteen, Shannon became a professional ballet dancer, joining American Ballet Theatre and the Zurich Ballet in Switzerland, among other companies. She went on to dance with many of the great ballets around the world.

Shannon retired from her professional ballet career to pursue her dream of becoming a doctor and hopes to begin medical school in the fall of 2006. She is currently an undergraduate pre-med student at the University of California-San Francisco.

Despite the rigorous demands of studies and work, Shannon returned to her roots at the Juvenile Justice Center, this time in the role that we served for her so many years ago. Shannon coordinated a program between San Francisco State University and the Juvenile Justice Center to bring hands-on chemistry to the young people there. She also volunteered each week to teach Yoga to the children who are incarcerated in the Juvenile Justice Center. It is our greatest hope that Shannon touches the lives of one of today’s young people in the same way that Frank Moran, Rosemary O’Sullivan and Joan Coyne touched her life twenty years ago.

More Success Stories

Vincent Cruz

Vicente Cruz was the recipient of an academic scholarship from City Youth Now in 2013 and previously participated in our Internship Program, both of which offered him incredible opportunities to succeed and to be rewarded for his hard work. And that hard work has paid off! Vicente has just won his immigration case and is now a legal permanent resident. He is working in a youth employment program and is attending school at City College. Each of these successes is due to Vicente’s hard work and determination to make a better life for himself. City Youth Now is proud to have been a supporter of his efforts and is excited to see what he will do in his future.

Jockuela Ballard

Jockuela is a young woman of remarkable perseverance and strength. At a young age, Jockuela’s mother was not able to care for her because of chronic substance abuse. She soon moved in with her great-grandmother who raised her and her younger brother. When her great-grandmother became ill, Jockulela missed school to take care of everything. Her social worker, Anca Bujes, knew that young Jockuela deserved better care and placed Jockuela with her cheerleading coach. In this new placement, Jockuela began to thrive.

She excelled in school, improved her GPA, and with the help of her foster family began researching colleges for Jockuela to attend. After extensive research, they found a small historical black college in North Carolina that is well suited to Jockuela’s needs. She is now in her second year at Johnson C. Smith University where she continues to fulfill her dreams, Jockuela will be the first person in her family to complete college.

Jockuela was the 2010 recipient of the Sari Wade Memorial Scholarship.

Perry Jones

In 1996, at the age of fourteen, Perry Jones landed himself in the maximum security unit for serious offenders at the San Francisco Juvenile Justice Center.

Raised in the Caesar Chavez Street projects, Perry witnessed hustling, violence, and crime every day from the confines of his own home. It was a huge part of the environment and community he grew up in.

At the Juvenile Justice Center, Perry found salvation in writing and befriended David Inocencio, director of The Beat Within, a weekly writing group at Juvenile Hall. While at the Juvenile Justice Center, Perry was sentenced to ten years at the California Youth Authority where he continued writing and communicating with The Beat. When he was released, Perry joined with The Beat as an editor of the weekly publication and office assistant.

Once he established stability in his own life, David Inocencio invited Perry to join The Beat as a facilitator in his old haunts, the San Francisco Juvenile Justice Center. Perry was soon facilitating the weekly workshops and connecting with incarcerated youth.

Perry’s willingness to listen and reflect, his hunger to learn, desire to improve his own life and his personal mission to give back to the community all make him stand out as a shining example of hope for incarcerated youth.

As David Inocencio remarks, “Perry is a priceless teacher, mentor and leader.”

Perry is living his dream—working in San Francisco as a youth advocate and giving our young people hope for a brighter tomorrow.

Perry Jones was the recipient of the 2008 Jesse E. Williams III Scholarship.

Naveh Pilates

Naveh Pilates was the 2007 recipient of the Jesse E. Williams III Scholarship. Naveh is a young woman who is highly motivated to continue making the changes and choices needed to transition into a self-sufficient and responsible adult. At age 14, Naveh’s world changed forever when her father committed suicide. At the time she was too proud, confused, and alone to ask for help or guidance. Instead, Naveh turned to a life of drugs, cutting classes, attending parties and spending time on the streets. She eventually entered the delinquency system and was in and out on different occasions. Upon her release, her stepfather, the man who had raised her since she was 5 years old, left because of her mother. So, once again, just two years after her father’s death, Naveh was alone. She felt a void in her life that could not be filled.

Instead of returning to the activities that lead to her incarceration in the past, Naveh entered the foster care system and enrolled in her first college courses at the age of 16. She began volunteering her time at ILSP and Larkin Street, as well as the Guardian Scholars Club, French Club, Aid for Disabled Students, MESA Club, and Honor’s Program. Naveh currently attends Solano Community College and City College of San Francisco. She has used her past as momentum for success in her future. She has bought and sold her first car, obtained her first apartment, and has learned how to be a successful independent adult. In the summer, she will be attending the University of Hawaii’s summer outreach program to continue her study of linguistics and begin working towards her masters degree in second language studies, so that she may advocate for disadvantaged youth around the globe. As Naveh says, “I see that the ugliness of my past is what I like to call ‘fertilizer’ for my blooming future.”

Larissa Preston

Lisa Miller, age 19, lives for social justice. As a child, she and her siblings lived considerably below the poverty line and she did everything she could to ameliorate her situation. When she was ten-years old she got her first job to try to become independent, but $20/week did not help much. Lisa was not discouraged. She continued working, but focused on school and her bonds with her siblings. At age eleven, her brother was adopted and she and her sister entered a foster home. Lisa could not work, so she started to volunteer. At 14, she and her sister left their placement and went into separate relative placements.

From there Lisa graduated from Lick-Wilmerding, one of the most prestigious private high schools in California. During that time, she maintained a 3.0 GPA, Played Varsity Sports, and worked part-time. She volunteered with the American Civil Liberties Union and the U.C.S.F. National Center for Excellence in Women’s Health. In her time, she has fought sexism, homophobia and classism, but she is passionate about improving the lives of children everywhere. Currently, she is finishing her first year at the University of the Pacific, where she is studying sociology and volunteering 16 hours a week at Prevent Child Abuse California. She hopes to have three major careers in her life. First she plans to become a child advocate. Then, she would like to do legislative work. And, finally, she would like to serve at least one term as a major government official. Governor would work for her, but her sights are set on the United States Presidency.

Felipe Colin

Felipe Colin’s life has not been easy. As a child growing up in Mexico, Felipe split his time between his studies and working 40 hours a week at a tacqueria to support his family. In Mexico, education was not free and available to everyone. There were rarely enough funds to support the family as well as his education. At home, life was not easy. His family was dysfunctional and his father regularly abused his mother. Since the age of eleven years, he has worked full-time as the only means of support for his mother and himself. His father would only show up on pay-day to hit him and his mother until he gave him the money he had earned. In 2004 his father beat him very badly and he ended up in the emergency room. When he got out of the hospital he left his mother and Mexico to come to America because he was afraid that his father would kill him the next time. From the hospital, Felipe boarded a flight to San Francisco to join one of his cousins. Soon after his arrival, Felipe’s cousin abandoned him, leaving him alone and homeless.

Eventually, Felipe ended up in foster care system and was able to complete his high school education. He worked very hard to graduate from high school and become eligible to go to college. Currently, Felipe is a student at San Francisco State University where he majors in Biology and maintains a 3.5 cumulative G.P.A. One of his career goals is to become a doctor because he believes he can make a difference in people’s lives by helping them at an early age. He hopes to become a plastic surgeon and specialize in reconstructive surgery. With the help of technology he plans to develop a technique to make surgical scars smoother and less noticeable and improve the patient’s outcome. Felipe has been active in extra-curricular activities including the Independent Living Skills Program, and the Boys and Girls Club.

One day, he hopes to be able to travel to countries where his help is needed. There are so many children both in America and around the world who need medical attention. He plan to provide them with professional medical care and to make them feel more confident about themselves by leaving no scars to remind them of their past. Felipe received the Emancipating to Real Freedom Scholarship in 2007 and participated in the Laptop Computer Program in 2008.

Alexis Roy

Alexis Roy entered the foster care system at the age of nine. She and her sister had fallen under the dependency system due to neglect of her drug-addicted birth parents.

Alexis had just entered fifth grade when a man from Child Protective Services came to the home. She and her sister packed their few possessions into their backpacks and were moved to a foster home. They were very lucky to have ended up in a nice foster home with wonderful foster parents.

The positive influence of the new placement showed. Alexis’s grades improved, for the first time ever she developed a group of school friends. Foster care services provided them with money to get new clothes, and she now bathed on a regular basis.

At age twelve, Alexis and her sister were separated. Alexis was placed with an aunt while her sister moved in with their grandmother. Being separated was tough, but the two managed to visit each other frequently. Alexis continued to excel while living with her aunt. She transitioned to a new middle school where she remained on the honor roll. In eighth grade, she started club swimming and discovered a love for running. At age 14 Alexis competed in the Alcatraz challenge (a 1.5 mile swim from Alcatraz to Crissy Field, followed by a 7.5 mile run across the Golden Gate Bridge and back).

Alexis attended Lick-Wilmerding High school for two years before dropping out. Alexis enrolled in the Alameda Beauty College in June of 2004 and is scheduled to graduate from beauty school and get her cosmetologist’s license in September. She’ll also be taking her high school equivalency exam this spring.

After she emancipates from foster care this winter, Alexis would like to return to school to get a degree in fashion, a business license, and certification to be a personal trainer. Her dream is to open a three component image center including a salon, a gym, and a boutique.

Alfredo Romero

Alfredo Romero has been working with The Beat Within for the past year-and-a-half. Throughout his time with The Beat Within, he has grown tremendously. When he first came through the doors of their office, he was a full-time gang member. He had been to juvenile hall a few times in both San Francisco’s Juvenile Justice Center and San Mateo’s Hillcrest Center. He sold drugs and was getting into fights, gangbanging and leading a lifestyle that was a dead end.

While incarcerated he went to a Beat Within workshop. He thought about change, but needed a push, a discipline that would help ground him. He wrote for The Beat and when he saw his writing published, he felt proud, and had a sense of accomplishment. He liked The Beat and one of the facilitators encouraged him to come down to their offices for a job when he was released.

He took the facilitator up on the offer, showed up and asked for work. He began volunteering and then went on to work ten hours a week doing general office work improving his skills in typing, filing, working in an office setting, setting and sticking to a schedule and basic computer knowledge. After six months, staff at The Beat saw that he had valuable knowledge and was a productive member of the team.

Alfredo has proved to be an excellent employee, helpful, dedicated to his colleagues, and possessing a strong work ethic. He is a role model for his peers. David Inocencio, Alfredo’s boss, says “We’ve seen so much change occur in Alfredo’s life and we hope that we will continue to watch him grow as time passes.” Alfredo truly deserves to be honored as a Youth Creating Change recipient.

Darnisha Prince

Darnisha Prince is a writer and a poet. Darnisha does not know exactly why she started writing, but she says it was around the age of ten. “I remember I was having a problem with my grandmother and I was so upset I didn’t know what to do, so I just picked up a pen and started writing.” Darnisha did not really share her poems with others until about eight months ago when she joined the Youth Task Force at Legal Services for Children.

As a Youth Advocate, Darnisha and other young people go into schools around the city to share their own writings and thoughts as a way to educate and inspire others. As Darnisha points out, “If you want to change the system, then it’s not just what adults say. Since it’s really about us, we need to get in our opinions too.”

Darnisha has been in the foster care system almost since birth. She describes her life as “hard,” but also as a “blessing” which only shows how strong she is. As a young girl Darnisha lost her grandmother and then her father shortly afterwards. She has never lived with her mother.

Darnisha now lives in a group home. She is going to graduate from high school this coming June, then attend City College for two years and transfer to USF, where she wants to major in Political Science. Darnisha plans to be a lawyer one day.

Earlier this year, Darnisha and other members of the Youth Task Force were invited to participate in the National System of Care conference in Texas. Although Arnisha’s fees and travel costs were covered by conference organizers, City Youth Now was proud to provide her with the spending money she needed to cover additional expenses. Darnisha’s group has been awarded a National Ecko Award for their CD of poetry and writings. She has also started working on her first book—hopefully, the first of many.

Michael Taylor

Michael Taylor says he used to give his teachers “hell.” That is almost hard to imagine today.

Now a sophomore at Alameda Junior College, Michael is studying psychology and so far his lowest grade has been a “B.” Michael says he went to school to play basketball, “but now I’ve found out that reading books and learning new things is more exciting than scoring buckets and pleasing the crowd.” Although still quite a crowd pleaser, Michael’s dream is to be a high school counselor and to open a group home—”one designed for kids, where kids are really treated well.”

While he was on probation, Michael participated in the Squires Program and even served on the San Francisco Youth Commission. Unlike many youth, Michael was able to transfer back to a “regular” high school after attending a continuation school and graduated from Balboa High School.

Because of his demanding school and work schedule these days, Michael has had to stop working with the community-based program Straight Forward Club, where he has been working on and off for the last several years. Michael has helped teach a number of different classes there, including fitness classes and street awareness classes for other youth.

Earlier this year, City Youth Now helped pay for Michael’s stipend at Straight Forward Club through our Mentorship/Internship Program. Michael has volunteered there, even when they could not pay him. Ben Bautista, Michael’s supervisor and mentor at Straight Forward Club, says “Michael is a true testament to how someone can overcome adversities. He’s come a long way. He is really trying to make it. He has people trying to help him, but it is going to take a real job to give him the resources he needs to succeed.”

Michael has already demonstrated that he has both the skills and the determination to make it. We are wishing him all the best.

Linda Bard

Linda Bard is now 17, but she was sent to YTEC (Youth Treatment & Education Court) at age 14. At that time, she had not attended school regularly for years and could neither read nor write.

Linda started first grade at the age of seven, but because she had never been to school before, she quickly started falling behind.

According to her vocational counselor at YTEC, “The continuous promotions from grade to grade only furthered the problem, until it erupted into low self-image, fear, and embarrassment, and then she became invisible, and began “ditching” class after class. Eventually becoming truant, she left middle school with little to no education. Attending YTEC, with personalized help, allowed her to experience an environment ‘free from fear’.”

Once Linda started attending school through YTEC, she found out that she really enjoyed learning and she advanced to a fourth grade reading level. But, she was never going to be able to catch up to grade level without significant literacy support. Unfortunately, this support is very costly. City Youth Now helped to make it possible for Linda to work with literacy specialists at The Reading Clinic.

Linda wrote to let us know how she was doing:

“When I started at the Reading Clinic I was reading at a fourth grade level, writing at a third grade level, and comprehending at a sixth grade level. I was seventeen years old. Now at the age of eighteen I’m testing at high school level. I’m learning at a faster pace. Each day my reading and writing skills get better because of the foundation I learned at The Reading Clinic. I would just like to say thank you for giving me this great opportunity to want to better my education.”

Markus Sheldon

City Youth Now celebrates the Martial Arts accomplishments of foster youth Markus Sheldon, age 9!

For over 3 years, foster youth Markus Sheldon has been supported by City Youth Now with emergency clothing, education assistance, personal development opportunities, campership scholarships, and recreation activities. While the support has come in many forms, one activity in particular has profoundly impacted the life of young Markus — a series of ongoing martial arts classes.

Last weekend, Markus graduated from a blue belt to a green belt in Shaolin Kenpu skills. The ceremony was festive, and featured black belt experts as well as a very impressive array of defensive, acrobatic skills demonstrated by over 30 classes to a rousing hip-hop soundtrack.

Markus’s foster mom, Patty, a rising blue belt, has been taking classes with her son, and both mother and son expressed to us the bonding that the shared experience has given them.

City Youth Now is so deeply pleased to see how — as a result of our continued financial support for young Markus — these rigorous classes has helped him develop confidence, posture, esteem, and pride in who he is.

Sharnice Collins

Sharnice is a young woman who has overcome great loss and transformed her experiences into the stepping stone to a brighter future. Sharnice did not grow up with luxury or the comfort that many children of her excellence have. At the age of five her grandmother, the backbone of her family, passed away and her father was soon thereafter shot and killed. At the age of sixteen, she experienced loss again when her stepfather of eight years was gunned down outside their apartment in Sunnydale. Her stepfather was a loving father figure who had cared for Sharnice. That same year, Sharnice found herself entangled with the Juvenile Justice System. Unlike many young people who are detained at her age, Sharnice used this experience as an opportunity for change.

Raised by a mother who pushed the importance of education, Sharnice excelled in school graduating with a 3.9 GPA at the end of her senior year of high school. She also became employed as a result the City Youth Now Internship Program by Precita Center where she helps younger children. In spite of all her losses, overcoming physical challenges, and her time on juvenile probation, Sharnice has come through as a successful young adult pursuing a college degree in Criminal Justice at San Francisco City College.

Sharnice was the 2010 recipient of the Jesse E. Williams III Scholarship.

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