Forming Foster Youths’ Futures
Franco Vega knows the hardships kids in South Central Los Angeles often face, because he himself went through it. Growing up, Vega had an abusive mother and an alcoholic father. The experience is what propelled him to begin The RightWay Foundation, which helps young adults in L.A. build themselves up after aging out of the foster care system.
“I understand where they come from. They are hopeless and hurt,” says Executive Director Vega.
RightWay provides mental health treatment and job training to transition-aged youth who have or are about to “age out” of the foster care system. Established in 2011, the Foundation’s main center welcomes foster youth on the ground floor of the sprawling Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza Mall. There, Vega, along with six Licensed Clinical Social Workers, work tirelessly to find employment for the youths and offer therapy and life skills training along the way. Their mindset is that employment alone isn’t enough.
Vega’s saying: “It’s not your fault, but it is your life,” rings true in what the organization does. It utilizes a hands-on approach to help children coming out of the foster care system chart a path to their own futures. “No one else is mixing therapy into employment services and helping to find housing, all under one roof,” says Vega.
None of the young adults who work with RightWay ever had the chance to join the Girl Scouts or to have paper routes as children. So they are learning about entry-level employment much later in life. RightWay helps them learn what to expect from their jobs and what’s expected of them. It also works closely with companies across L.A. including TJMaxx, Bloomingdale’s, and others based at LAX to train the businesses how to best work with employees with traumatic backgrounds.
That relationship has shown results. About 90% of participants reported an increase in social support and a decrease in social isolation, and 70% secured and retained employment or paid internships.
Another goal of the organization is to end the foster care-to-prison pipeline. Nearly 25% of California’s foster youth are incarcerated within two years of emancipation. The incarceration rate for RightWay alumni is less than 1%. Vega says RightWay’s biggest measure of success is its retention rate. The program welcomes kids back again and again and aims to continue to work with them as they grow.
“We created a model that makes them feel welcome. We don’t downgrade them or judge. We are taking people where they are at,” he says.
Recently, the organization has shifted to also help its kids secure affordable housing, knowing that the best way to set them up for success is to make sure they have a roof over their heads. COVID-19 put that sharply into focus. Many kids had previously been couch surfing and living with friends but found themselves forced onto the streets and unable to presentably show up to work. RightWay’s new project pays half the rent for their first year, to help its kids navigate the working world.
The first $1,500 will be matched.
The RightWay Foundation’s goal is to help foster care youth transitioning out of the system build their own futures through employment and therapy. But in order to do that, they also need stable housing.
During the pandemic, the need for that stability amidst California’s high rental market became apparent. That’s where “Operation Housing First” comes into play. Rightway is hoping to raise a seed fund of $250,000 to go towards the new project.
The program pays the security deposit and half of each month’s rent for program participants to live in their own apartment for one year. It’s also mindful of each person’s specific needs and chooses rentals located in safe neighborhoods close to their jobs so they can walk or take advantage of public transportation. A donation of $21,600 can help house three young adults working with RightWay for one full year.
Thanks to The Giving List’s novel matching program, all donations of up to $1,500 will be matched.
We at The RightWay Foundation help Transition-Age Foster Youth get and keep good jobs despite the overwhelming trauma they have endured throughout their lives.
Executive Director: Franco Vega
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“My name is Shamyia. I’m 26 years old. At the age of one I became a ward of the court. Most of my childhood I felt as if I was being raised by the system. As I grew older, I felt as if I was numbered and stamped. Between my teenage years and adult life I had no family support, emotional support, or financial support, no guidance or knowledge on what the real world holds. At the age of 16, I completely took on the responsibilities of protecting, providing for, and supporting myself and my one-year-old son. At the age of 18, I emancipated out of the system. My fear of failure was my motivation. The most important strength that got me through it all was faith. In 2018, I entered a life-changing organization, The RightWay Foundation. I was struggling financially on probation and without a home for more than two years. This program is not just only for general helping purposes; this program has supported me with all of my pain, depression, excessive stress, and emotional breakdowns. I had one goal when I entered the program which was to obtain full-time employment. Over the years they have supported me beyond what I expected. I participated in many events and workshops, such as financial literacy, acting, internships, life skills workshops, mentoring, etc.The RightWay Foundation has demonstrated what a supportive family feels like. In August 2021, The RightWay Foundation moved me into my own apartment. One take away: No excuses! As I continue my walk of life.”
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