Citrus College Foster Care Student Perseveres to Make a Difference

by Valerie Martinez

Josielyn “Josie” Mercado entered the foster care system when she was 11 years old, shuffling from school to school every few months and never having a place to call home. However, while Mercado’s home life was in a constant state of flux, the now 18-year-old never let the circumstances under which she lived limit the ambitious goals she could set for herself.

With the help of Citrus College’s Foster/Kinship Care Education (FKCE) and Resources Programs, which provides quality education and support services to foster youths ages 14 and older, Mercado is now a first-year, full-time student with a 3.5 GPA and plans to become a registered nurse or physician’s assistant.

To cap off her personal and academic achievements, Mercado was selected by the California Youth Connection (CYC) to attend a “Day at the Capitol” in Sacramento on Feb. 8. There, Mercado and approximately 230 CYC members and supporters met with legislators to discuss sibling visitation rights and provide ideas on how to improve the foster care system.

CYC, now in its 25th year, is a youth-led organization that empowers foster youth to transform the foster care system through legislative and policy change.

“Josie is a remarkable young woman who is using her experiences to be a strong local and state advocate for herself and others, shape legislative reform and to inspire others,” stated Citrus College Superintendent/President Geraldine M. Perri, Ph.D.

Mercado, who graduated from Gladstone High School in Azusa and currently lives with her grandfather, said the experience was more gratifying than she could have imagined.

“It was really an exciting opportunity for me to go to Sacramento, have direct access to our local legislators and have a voice in shaping child welfare policy statewide,” said Mercado, who spoke with three lawmakers, including Assemblyman Adrin Nazarian, D-Sherman Oaks.

Lillian Sass, FKCE coordinator, said Mercado, who currently assists and guides foster youth on campus as a peer mentor, was deserving of the opportunity.

“Josie is a gentle soul who is committed to obtaining good grades, holding a high GPA, being a student leader and educating the foster youth in our community of the services that are available to them,” Sass said.

According to the CYC, more than 50,000 children throughout California are temporarily housed in private homes, group homes or institutions. Many children move between residences three to five times throughout their stay in foster care, leading to 55 percent of foster youth not completing their high school education.

Nevertheless, through Citrus College’s innovative Youth Empowerment Strategies for Success (YESS-LA) program, Mercado and others like her have stayed on track to a successful future. The program offers information on financial aid and provides counseling, extra tutoring and moderate assistance for books.

First exposed to the college’s program at 16 years old, Mercado has implemented strategies she learned in YESS-LA, giving her invaluable learning opportunities to develop life skills and help others in a similar situation. She also credits her younger siblings for motivating her to succeed.

“I suffered growing up, and I didn’t want to see my little sisters suffer,” she said. “I also didn’t want to end up without an education or living on the streets. I wanted to set an example for my sisters, and I believe I am.”

Dr. Patricia Rasmussen, president of the Citrus Community College District Board of Trustees, praised Mercado for her accomplishments and for being a leading voice of change.

“I commend Josie for wanting to help foster youth throughout the state,” Rasmussen said. “She is truly an inspiration.”

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