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When senior Yaya Pineda volunteered at the nonprofit Bright Horizon Group Home in Claremont two years ago for her community service class, she did not expect the experience to be so inspiring that she would choose to make helping the group home the focus of her senior project.
“Foster kids just get lost in the system,” Pineda, a communications major with a public relations concentration, said. “I want to shed a light on them at the University. When it was time for senior project, I wanted to work with them again. I think it’s something college students can help out.”
Even with government funding, the group home has a limited budget, and there are currently no volunteers.
The group home houses and cares for six teenage boys. A few University alumni and current students are working there, and their majors vary from psychology, biology to criminal justice, bringing broad perspectives from different disciplines.
They have tight bonds with the boys and care for them personally and academically. They are also involved with their lives outside the home, such as forming close relationships with the school principal to have better understanding of their performance at school.
For her project, Pineda gathered the boys’ wish lists and six University clubs and organizations — Shades of Essence, Psi Chi Honor Society, Black Student Union, Phi Sigma Sigma, First Generation Club and Leos PR Club – will metaphorically “adopt” the boys by turning their wishes into reality. Pineda hopes to raise at least $600.
Pineda is promoting her campaign, #FosterHope, to help the group home through applying the public relations skills she learned through her studies at the University. She sent out flyers she created the clubs and organizations, describing each boy’s story and situation at the group home.
Pineda will also host an event April 22 at the Campus Center with a panel of speakers who have worked with the foster system, and the boys will receive the gifts the clubs and organizations have collected.
One thing that differentiates Bright Horizon from other foster homes is that the people running it treats the boys like actual family, Pineda said.
“It’s really homely oriented,” Pineda said. “It’s supposed to be a place (the boys) temporarily stay, but with the way the home is built, they want them to stay for as long as they could.”
The story of one particular boy from Pineda’s volunteering experience was especially memorable. The boy, now 17, has mild autism and grew up in the foster home system after being abandoned by his mother at a young age. One day, a government social worker came to speak with him and Pineda was allowed to watch them talk but not interfere.
“(The social worker) treated the boy like a client, but in the group home, they treated him like a brother and a part of the family,” Pineda said. “The social worker wanted the case to be over and move on to the next. It wasn’t personal at all; it was cold. He’s very shy as he is, and he’s a sweet, sweet boy, but he kept looking at the floor and wasn’t standing up for himself. I remember feeling so helpless. I wanted to help him, but there wasn’t anything I could do. On the drive home, it really hit me and I started tearing up.”
However, when Pineda returned to the group home recently, she learned the boy now has a girlfriend, and he is also about to graduate high school.
“He’s doing really well,” Pineda said. “I think that’s the work of the home. They’re allowed to give him this individualized attention since it’s such a small group home.
David Cuevas, a University master’s student in leadership and management, has worked at the group home since 2005 when he was a student at Mt. San Antonio College. He has been an administrator at Bright Horizon Group Home for six years.
He believes the group home is successful due to the small environment.
“It’s a single home, and it’s a big family,” Cuevas said. “We see through their hearts. The best thing is just knowing that you’re helping somebody else out besides yourself. It’s nurturing – if you’re that type of person, this is your thing.”
His experience with Bright Horizon inspired him to go back to school, because he wants to form his own nonprofit organization in the future.
Cuevas also hopes to develop volunteer programs with University students and the group home.
He believes social interactions with students would be beneficial to the boys in the group home, and students would have opportunities to work directly with children.
Bradlee Johnson, president of Black Student Union and a senior speech communications major, is asking her group members to donate items from the wish list of one of the boys the club is “adopting.”
“I think it’s an excellent project to help these children,” Johnson said. “I think we all get wrapped up in the average life as college students, and it’s an opportunity to give back.”
The Black Student Union members are very supportive of Pineda’s project, Johnson said.
“I think she’s going outside the box for this, and it’s an excellent opportunity to help the community,” Johnson said.
Kaila Williams, senior communications major, is also working with Bright Horizon Group Home for her senior project after hearing about it from Pineda, but Williams’ focus is different. She is starting a volunteer mentoring program between University students and the boys at the group home.
Pineda started working on her senior project last semester. She plans to work for a nonprofit organization after graduating in May.
“Being a communications major, I thought I could do something for them either (through raising) money or volunteering,” Pineda said. “If I can help them in any way, that’ll be good.”
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