Can you imagine being a child and not having a place to lay your head? The fear and panic of being in a strange place, away from the only home you have ever known, concerned for your safety?
This is a reality for some Black children in the Oregon foster care system, as African-American children continue to be overrepresented. When these foster care children turn 18, they age out of the system, which means that the financial support is cut off, and with no means of support or resources, some of this population ends up on the streets. But there is hope.
“Since moving back to Eugene in 2020, I have seen so many youth homeless. When I see this I know that it is God pricking my heart. I feel like society, including me, has somehow failed our youth when children are homeless. I cannot change the world, but I believe this program can change the outlook of foster care youth or kids who may be facing homelessness after high school graduation,” says Dr. Brenda Joyce Sanders on starting her nonprofit, BLACKS, Black Leaders Activating Cultural Knowledge to Succeed.
BLACKS is on a mission to help change the outlook for Black and BIPOC foster children in Lane County, Oregon. It serves students who may be at risk of homelessness after high school and each year will have 25 incoming freshmen and up to 100 students at any time in the high school program.
BLACKS will accomplish this task by setting up pathways to success so they can:
- Obtain a 2-year degree or a 1-year certificate while still in high school
- Participate in 4 years of paid internships, learning proper job etiquette, on-the-job training, and experience. The money they make will be kept in custodial accounts for students until they graduate high school. This will give them a fresh start in life.
- Have support and mentorship for their endeavors
Brenda started BLACKS in April of this year, with the aid of a grant from United Way, and is looking forward to the kids getting back to school, as she will be starting up and doing orientation in late October. She has quickly built a network of colleagues and supporters like Tricia Merrick, Sonya Carlson, and Ashley Espinoza, who have offered support, advice, workspace, and shared connections in the community to aid in her success.
The business community can help BLACKS be a force to change the outlook for these students, reach out to Dr. Sanders to learn more, and support the success of at-risk students in our community. Some opportunities include being a volunteer mentor, a volunteer supporter, or offering paid internships to youth. There are also opportunities for BIPOC organizations to offer community service to youth.