BERKELEY (KPIX 5) — Nationwide data show there are more than 400,000 young people in foster care in the U.S. on any given day.
They are far less likely than their peers to go to college, and about half of them become homeless within a year and a half of living on their own.
But a Bay Area woman is helping foster youth soar. Diana Brown surrounds them with a circle of love and support through a nonprofit she started after her parents passed away.
“I then realized this is life, so impermanent, temporary, so I asked myself, ‘What is my life all about?'” Brown recalled.
She left her job in IT management and founded SOAR for Youth in 2009.
Its volunteers provide support in academics, leadership and life skills to about a hundred Bay Area foster youth this year aged 11 through 19.
Middle schoolers start with a residential program at University of California, Berkeley for three summers then stay connected with other activities.
“They should have someone to protect them and guide them toward success and a bright future,” Brown said.
She is leading the way. While data from the US Department of Health and Human Services show only about half of American foster youth graduate from high school on time, the statistics are encouraging at SOAR.
At SOAR for Youth, 95 percent get their high school diploma on time and 9 in 10 of them go to college.
Take Centurion Barron, a mechanical engineering student at University of California, Merced.
“I was a very scared little kid, just little didn’t much about the world, about people in my situation,” said Barron. “SOAR has helped me gain that confidence.”
SOAR for Youth partners with UC Berkeley, social services, CASA chapters and a host of community organizations.
Most of the nonprofit’s funding comes from foundations and individual donations.
Applications for students must include a CASA or social worker referral.
And while foster kids can move from home to home and school to school, academic manager Madeline Cohen says SOAR remains committed to students, from middle school to early college.
“We stick with those kids no matter what,” Cohen said.
To SOAR graduate Brianna Miller, Diana Brown is family.
“She’s always there and I feel like that’s what a mother is,” Miller reflected.
Brown says she simply emulates her parents.
“To be able to give their kind of love to our kids, I think my parents would say, ‘You did a good job,'” she smiled.