Foster Youth Lead the Way in Opening New Center

Sep 4, 2014

The Epicenter's mission statement hangs in the entryway of the new center at 20 Maple Street in Salinas.
Credit Krista Almanzan

An 18th birthday can be a tricky time for kids in foster care.  As adults, they can leave the system, but being out their own isn’t easy.  Statistics from the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption show 1 in 5 foster kids will be homeless after 18 and only half will have a job at 24.  

But a growing number of California communities are finding a solution in a community center model where foster kids help other foster kids transition out of the system into adulthood.  One such center opens today in Salinas.  It’s called the Epicenter.

“When you think of an earthquake, the epicenter is where the shock started from.  So we wanted to be the shock of what happens to the youth, and how they get their services, how they change their lives,” says Patterson Emesibe, one of the Epicenter’s nine youth founders.

The Epicenter is a one stop shop for youth between the ages of 16 and 24 who are transitioning out of systems like foster care or even juvenile detention.  The idea is to connect them with the things they need to become successful adults: housing, job opportunities and financial aid for school.

“By creating the center not only are we going to provide the financial aid information, the education information, the housing information, but this will also be the perfect place to start shaping the 16-year-olds, and helping them think about what is it that you are passionate about?  What is it that you want to do?  Oh you want to be a police officer, let’s find you a mentor in the community,” says Emma Ramirez, an Epicenter founder.

“If you grow up in a healthy family usually it’s your parents who are helping you figure it all that out and most 18 year olds today cannot figure out how to be adults on their 18th birthday,” says Leslie Medine, co-founder of On the Move, the umbrella non-profit that has helped launch the Epicenter and others like it.

The first center, called VOICES, opened nearly ten years ago in Napa.  It has since been replicated in Santa Rosa, San Jose and now in Salinas.  On the Move helps find the youth who will be each center’s founders and staff.

“That’s been a really important part of our success is having young people who can step up and say, “I went through this maybe last year, and this is what I’m doing, and this is what you may be able to do to get yourself through it”,” says Mitch Findley, one of the ten founding members of VOICES and now on staff with On the Move. 

Leslie Medine says since the first center opened, the foster care system has improved.  Recent legislation created extended foster care giving kids access to services until they are 21. Yet whether kids leave the system at 18 or 21, it’s an uphill climb.

“The statistics are horrible for what happens with young people coming out of foster care. In terms of something like 61% leave foster care having no idea what their housing situation is.  I mean that alone. I mean they don’t do well generally speaking in education,” says Medine.

“Those are some challenging statistics that we need to overcome. And we hope that by having a program like Epicenter here. It will help the youth here and keep some of this from happening,” says Robert Taniguchi, Director of Family and Children’s Services in Monterey County. 

The Epicenter’s grand opening celebration is today, 4:00pm to 7:00pm at 20 Maple Street in Salinas.  Services officially begin next week.