Ricky Watters Helps Raise Awareness for Foster Youth
What was your life like at age 18?
That’s the question behind a campaign showcased during Super Bowl 50 to raise awareness for youths who “age out” of the foster care system when they turn 18.
A group of NFL players and celebrities is working with Oakland-based nonprofit First Place for Youth to launch its “When I Was 18” crowdfunding campaign by taping their own stories. The nonprofit received a $500,000 Game Changer grant from the NFL’s Super Bowl 50 Host Committee to help foster youths make the transition into the adult world, which can often happen abruptly, with no safety net.
About 26,000 foster youths across the country age out of the foster care system every year, about 6,000 of them from California, more than the other top three states combined, said Sam Cobbs, executive director of First Place for Youth. He said there’s a huge correlation between homelessness and the foster care system because of a lack of transitional support. The kids are forced into adulthood and survival mode overnight, and more than 65 percent of young people transitioning out of foster care will ultimately end up homeless or at risk of homelessness, he said.
“I don’t think there are many people, regardless of whatever home you grew up in, who are prepared to make it on their own at the age of 18,” Cobbs said.
“They don’t get a chance to test and experiment, like college students do,” he said.
The agency provides housing, education and employment assistance, as well as intensive emotional support to shepherd former foster youths out of homelessness.
Tony Goldwyn, star of the TV series “Scandal,” recalled in his videotaped segment how exciting a time it was at age 18.
“I could be sent to war, I can vote, I even can drink,” he reminisced. “And I did some really, really stupid things. As an 18-year-old, I never really looked much beyond the next couple hours, whether it was a girl I was interested in or an adventure before me.”
By contrast, Tennessee Titans wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, who had been shuttled from home to home as a foster kid, said he felt unnoticed, unseen.
“When I was 18, I felt like I was invisible coming from the foster system,” he said. “I had a single mother, no father. I felt like no one was watching me. Bounced around from home to home, it’s tough. Your trust level is different.”
Former Seahawks running back Ricky Watters, who was adopted, has mentored foster youths for the past 20 years. He was at the Oaklandish store in downtown Oakland earlier this week to promote the campaign.
“These aren’t bad kids,” said Watters. “They’ve just been dealt a bad hand, and we need to rally around that. They can do anything they put their mind to. And they have so much to give, when given that chance.”
Watters’ NFL career spanned the San Francisco 49ers (1991-1994, Super Bowl XXIX Champion), Philadelphia Eagles (1995-1997), and Seattle Seahawks (1998-2001).
Jazmyne Newsome, 22, whose father died when she was 1 and mother died of cancer when she was 5, said that First Place for Youth found her housing when she turned 18 and is helping with education to pursue her dreams to give back to the community, even mentor youths herself someday.
“We are not damaged goods. We are survivors at the end of the day,” she said. “But we still need help. We need that support system.”
By Joyce Tsai
San Jose Mercury News