(L to R): Debbie Raucher, Project Manager, John Burton Advocates for Youth and co-emcee of the Blueprint for Success Conference; Amy Lemley, Executive Director, John Burton Advocates for Youth; Arel Moodie ,best-selling author and speaker; Demontea Thompson, Resident Director at California State University, Los Angeles and co-emcee of the Blueprint for Success Conference. (Photo credit: RMH Media)

Keynote Speaker Moodie Inspired Foster Youth Students and Professionals alike with humor and hard-won wisdom

The Blueprint for Success Conference, sponsored by “John Burton Advocates for Youth” (JBAY), took place on October 16 and 17 at the Sheraton Gateway LAX in Los Angeles, focused on ensuring academic success for foster youth. The two-day conference convened professionals from across the academic landscape, including California Community Colleges, University of California, California State University campuses, social workers, foster youth advocates, and nearly 100 foster youth who are enrolled in college.

Best practices for professionals involved in foster youth advocacy as well as practical assistance, keys to success for students and interactive networking opportunities were the focus of the event.

Among the highlighted speakers at the conference on Tuesday, Oct. 17 were keynote Arel Moodie, a best-selling author and student success expert. Named by Inc. Magazine as one of “30 Under 30” top American entrepreneurs and acknowledged for his work by former President Obama, Moodie helps students from all backgrounds get to and get through college, and has conducted TedX talks on innovation.  Also addressing the conference in the General Session was Eloy Ortiz Oakley, California Community College Chancellor, who offered his perspective on implementing innovative programs and policies that help students succeed in college.

Sharing anecdotes from his own upbringing in a Brooklyn housing project, Moodie inspired and entertained the crowd of over 700 education professionals, foster care advocates and foster youth, relying on a mixture of humor and poignancy. He challenged attendees to question how they identify themselves and to see beyond what may be self-imposed limitations alongside literal roadblocks so many foster youth encounter. Rather than the despair of harsher statistics, such as lower graduation rates for foster youth, Moodie touted the fact that those who did graduate are proof that “it can be done.”  Moodie remarked how he has visited 48 of the 50 states, taking his message of self-determination to educators and students across the country, and offering digital copies of his book, “Your Starting Point for Student Success” to attendees.

Attendees had the opportunity to view demonstrations of the latest cutting-edge technology that is supporting foster youth to realize their college and career goals, including apps that support youth directly through their smart phones, specialized database products designed just for campus support programs, and software that enhances collaboration between partners.

With 30 workshops dealing with a range of issues including helping undocumented and homeless students safely access higher education; hands-on academic case management; career and technical education and securing jobs to assist with tuition and living expenses, the Blueprint Conference aims to close the gap in both access and success in academics for foster youth, whose enrollment in college still trails that of non-foster youth. Currently, nearly 62 % of all students in California go directly into college from high school.

Debbie Raucher, Project Director with John Burton Advocates for Youth, points to a 2010 study which found that just 43% of foster youth enrolled in college directly from high school, whereas data from 2017 puts the rates of college enrollment for foster youth at 54.8% by age 19. According to Raucher, “the growth in the participation in the Blueprint conference is mirrored by the increase in college attendance rates for foster youth. Professionals from across multiple systems coming together to collaborate and develop new strategies to support this vulnerable population is having a measurable impact on foster youth’s ability to turn their dreams into degrees.”

For more information on John Burton Advocates for Youth, please visit www.jbaforyouth.org.