Support for graduating foster teens is propelling them to success

“I’m very just proud and grateful I’ve made it this far,” foster teen feels love from community

SAN ANTONIO - – Graduating high school is an exciting time for students, but it’s a time filled with many emotions for teens in foster care.

Statistics show only about 50% of foster students graduate high school.

Leaving school and the system without a family can be scary, and that’s why organizations in Bexar County are stepping up to make sure that transition into the world is safe and successful.

Melanie was removed from her biological family when she was just two months old and put with other family members.

“Very rough living situation. So I went back into foster care when I was 12,” she said.

She’s about to be 18 next month and will be graduating high school, an incredible accomplishment.

“I’m very just proud and grateful that I’ve made it this far,” Melanie said.

Last year, she and her adorable 2-year-old daughter moved to the SJRC Texas foster care campus outside of San Antonio.

At SJRC, teens transitioning into adulthood learn all kinds of skills, including money management, job readiness, cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, utilizing community resources, and applying to college.

“I would say my biggest fear is when I graduate, I don’t really have like a family. It’s never really the same without a family. And I’ve never lived alone. And that’s another big fear,” Melanie said.

That’s why she plans to rely on the connections she’s made with mentors, caseworkers, and friends through SJRC.

She even signed an extended foster care agreement, allowing her to access continued services once she leaves SJRC.

“I am not ashamed to admit that I reached out for help. I’m very proud that I can admit that,” Melanie said.

She will soon be getting another big boost of support, from a whole lot of people she’s never even met.

Enter Hunter Beaton, who started the nonprofit Day 1 Bags when he was 15 years old. The organization provides quality bags to foster youth traveling from house to house, so they don’t have to carry their personal belongings in trash bags.

For the fourth year in a row, the nonprofit will collect donations for its Adopt a Senior program, helping foster teens graduating high school.

“Every Texas graduate, all nearly 600 of them, will be taking care of. They will find a gift set as directly for them and be congratulatory for their hard work,” Beaton said.

Each gift set has a $200 value.

“Including $100 Visa gift cards, these journals that have essential numbers and organizations that they can reach out to in their future, and then, of course, our bags and our handmade quilts,” Beaton said.

“Things that are going to be helpful for you when you’re in that transition,” Beaton said.

“That means the world to me. That gives me so much hope, you know, going out into the world and just like, ‘There’s people here to help me, so I can’t really be too scared,’” Melanie said.

The support from near and far gives her confidence in her plans for the future.

“I would have never thought that in my past situation, living with my family and just the way that they treated me, that there was genuine good people who would go out of their way to see someone else smile,” Melanie said.

With all this support, Melanie is ready to achieve some impressive goals, like becoming a psychiatric nurse.

She plans to start her studies at San Antonio College and then transfer to UTSA, eventually doing work with UT Health San Antonio.

As for those graduation gifts, if you want to donate, head to the Day 1 Bags website and click on the Adopt a Senior page.

About the Authors:

Courtney Friedman is a KSAT anchor and reporter. She has an ongoing series called Loving in Fear, confronting Bexar County’s domestic violence epidemic. She's also covered Hurricane Harvey, the shootings in Sutherland Springs and Santa Fe, and tornadoes throughout Texas. She’s a California native and proud Longhorn who loves calling SA home.

Luis Cienfuegos is a photographer at KSAT 12.