Growing up in foster care is hard enough during normal times — no love, guidance or support system, plus moving to a new home, school and community six, eight, even 10 times before reaching the age of 18.

The resulting fear of everything that life brings, plus the feeling that no one cares for them, gives children a me-against-the-world outlook. Add in the level of uncertainty that comes with COIVID-19 and you have anxiety levels that run off the charts.

A Pasadena nonprofit, 50/50 Leadership serves former foster youth with workshops and mentoring on how to manage their money.

Some of these young people were already homeless before the novel coronavirus. Many had been incarcerated. Since the pandemic hit, many others have detached from the people around them, not just to be safe at home (if they have a home), but because of their history of being unloved.

The former foster youth in our program had someone who called them at least once a week for a whole year. This was a caring, compassionate mentor who listened and shared their experience and knowledge so when a young person was trying to decide whether to fly to visit a friend or pay the rent, they talked them through the options and the consequences of their decisions.

I am an accomplished businesswoman today, but I was irresponsible with my money for much of my life. As a girl growing up in the 1960s and ‘70s, I didn’t have to know about money, and when I applied for a credit card, all they wanted was my husband’s signature — even though I didn’t have a husband! Then, by the time I had a husband, I had been taught that he would take care of our finances, so I didn’t have to. Even after we divorced, the messages from my youth told me that there would always be someone to bail me out. There wasn’t. I ended up homeless and pregnant. That’s when I started to realize that maybe I needed to change my thinking and take on my own financial well-being.

When I learned that over 70 percent of prison inmates grew up in foster care, I knew that here was a problem worth 50/50 Leadership’s attention. Many of these inmates had the door slammed shut on them by the foster care system when they turned 18 with no money, no family, and no idea of how to get a job or find an apartment. Immediately homeless, they were easy prey for criminals and predators of all stripes.

I had experienced the hopeless, helpless feeling associated with being homeless, but I also had loving family and friends who were able to help me up and point me in the right direction. I knew enough to open a bank account rather than to use the predatory lenders and exorbitant check cashing services. I knew to dress up, have a pen with me and not chew gum during job interviews. I knew these things because I grew up in a loving, middle-class home whose members talked with me about such things and encouraged me to read and learn about them. I had a squad of cheerleaders encouraging me.

When I took a wrong turn in life, I had my family to draw on for help. The young people we serve do not.

Today, with the devastation created by COVID-19, we have no idea what will happen to the economy, and whether there will be employment for the millions who are currently not working. None of us knows the answers. If you are one of the lucky ones who still has a job, please consider being a mentor, a cheerleader for one of the young women or men we serve. If you don’t have the time, please consider donating to our program or sponsoring a workshop. 

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