Tony was an exceptional teenager. At eighteen he graduated from his small high school as the valedictorian, all while working late into the night and taking classes at the local trade school to become a chef. His job was many miles away from his home in Compton and the train would stop running before his shift ended. As a result, Tony worked out a deal with the security guards who allowed him to sleep on a couch in the lobby. As a foster youth, Tony was grateful to have a job so the small discomforts didn’t bother him.
One morning Tony woke up after a shift at work and made his way to the train station to go home like he always did. However, this morning things would be drastically different.

He got a phone call from his foster mom, “Tony, I am sorry to tell you that you can’t come home today.” Shocked and disappointed Tony asked why. “Your eighteen now and you can’t legally live here. I dropped your stuff off at Peace4Kids and they’ll help you figure out what’s next… good luck.”

Tony was not a foster youth who had lived in multiple homes. His foster mom had been his parent for over 10 years and Tony felt very comfortable there. This made this phone call so much more surprising… suddenly he was homeless.

Tony arrived at Peace4Kids, a local nonprofit that had worked with him for many years, sad and confused. Fortunately, Peace4Kids was able to identify a home for him and provided the support he needed so that he could keep his job and pursue his degree in the culinary arts.

His friends and brothers who were also involved in Peace4Kids couldn’t believe that Tony, of all people, was put in that position. They were all younger than Tony and recognized that the same fate could await them. They realized that Tony made it through his ordeal because he was involved in a program that knew the child welfare system, but what about the thousands of foster youth that leave the foster care system without that type of support? Something had to be done.

The group rallied around Tony’s story and launched a campaign called “All I did was turn18”. They advocated for a bill in California that would increase the legal age of foster care from 18 to 21. Their campaign received both local and national attention and was featured in Newsweek. Their advocacy helped increase the visibility of the bill which was signed into law in 2010. In January 2012 the law went into effect insuring that future foster youth would not suffer the fate that Tony faced.

Today, Tony is a successful chef and lives in Hawaii with his wife. He is proud of his professional accomplishments but is even more grateful that his story sparked a movement. His story continues to inspire the social justice work of his peers and gave birth to Fostering Change.


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