Lerone Matthis was living life on the streets as another one of California’s homeless former foster youth. However, some unexpected opportunities and Matthis’ own courage have turned his life around.Care2 shares his story:
Matthis grew up in Richmond and entered the foster care system when he was a teen. He was moved from group home to group home in the three years he was in foster care.
“I was never comfortable with them. It was hard to tell other people how you are feeling alone, lost, separated…” Matthis said.
There was a time, he says, when he wondered if he would make it past 25, or if he would spend his life in prison. “Many of my friends were dying. The dangers of being shot plagued my everyday life,” he recalled. “Sometimes I begged for the ending of my existence.”
Matthis went through California’s Division of Juvenile Justice and, after his last stint in that system, feared his life had hit rock bottom. He was homeless and had to rely on friends and relatives for food and shelter. He remembers going a month wearing the same unwashed clothes and going to sleep hungry when he had no one to help him..
Luckily, Matthis got the help he needed to overcome his seemingly insurmountable challenges:
When he learned of the Extended Opportunity Programs and Services Second Chance Program, an educational support system for the formerly incarcerated, he enrolled at City College of San Francisco. Still, Matthis, a 29-year-old single father of two young children, said he didn’t believe he would finish school.
“Four years ago, I did not know what it meant to dream, to believe in a future or to have faith in myself,” Matthis said. “As a single father, I struggled to support my two beautiful, growing children.”
Despite those early doubts, Matthis graduated with a 3.4 GPA and plans to transfer to The University of California-Davis as a managerial economics major. Matthis credits some of his success to the Guardian Scholars Program, which provides financial and academic assistance to former foster youth.
About 200 City College students are part of the program, said Michael McPartlin, coordinator of the Guardians Scholars Program at the school..
Still, he adds, it’s difficult to meet the growing needs of former foster youth. McPartlin, who notes there are about 900 such students now enrolled at City College, said he no longer advertises the program because it is filled up to capacity.
Additional cuts to education programs made by California Governor Jerry Brown could prevent some former foster youth and low-income students from having Matthis’ success. As access to these programs decreases, it’s important to keep in mind what some basic help can do for our former foster youth:
“Although former foster youth are dealing with significant challenges…” said Matthis, “they can and will succeed if given the right tools or guidance.”