(June 27, 2011) San Diego, CA- Two young adults from San Diego were recently honored for their participation in the National Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Association’s “Fostering Futures Youth Video Contest” Suamhirs Rivera and Candace Kaimuloa (former foster children and currently “The Real Word” speakers for Voices for Children) each created a poignant video chronicling their experiences in foster care and the often tumultuous process of aging out of the system at 18.
The National CASA Association solicited participants from exceptional former foster youth, ages 18 to 24, within its 16 “Fostering Futures” program. They were invited to tell their story with the help of renowned video documentary producer, Dan Birman, Associate Professor at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Communications. Both Suamhirs and Candace attended a two-day, all-expenses-paid film training seminar, and then were given video cameras and two weeks to conceive and produce a video that creatively documented their personal stories. They were selected along with three other finalists to return to Los Angeles to work with professional editors to produce quality finished videos which were then submitted to a selection committee. In May 2011, Voices for Children received the news that both Suamhirs and Candace were selected as co-winners of the contest.
VFC President/CEO Sharon Lawrence said, “Stories about child abuse are often reported in the media. They detail the horrific circumstances in which a child was found; the unbelievable abuse suffered by children at the hands of those who should love them the most, and the failings of the professionals who work in the foster care system. But rarely do the reports explain the complicated laws and regulations that govern how these children are cared for, nor when successes do occur. The courageous stories of Suamhirs and Candace are a testament to the important role a CASA plays through a child’s journey in the foster care system.”
Suamhirs Rivera’s video documented an international story of survival. After suffering years of severe physical abuse from his father during his early childhood in Honduras, fearing for his life, Suamhirs fled his country and came to San Diego where he became a victim of the child sex trade. Rescued by the police, he entered San Diego’s foster care system at the age of 16, speaking only Spanish and without any responsible family members to care for him. Fortunately, Suamhirs was assigned a CASA volunteer from Voices for Children, a private, nonprofit agency in San Diego that recruits, trains, and supervises over 600 Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteers to work one-on-one with foster children. VFC assigned a CASA to Suamhirs who quickly became his mentor and voice in and out of the court system. Now age 21, Suamhirs attends the University of San Diego and works with children in foster care (San Diego Center for 2 Children) and at a local immigration youth detention center. Suamhirs credits his CASA for being his rock of support, allowing him to recognize his potential and dream of a better future, despite extraordinary adversity.
Suamhirs traveled to Las Vegas in May with a VFC staff member to accept his award at the annual Jewelers for Children Foundation Gala. “When I initially learned of the video project with National CASA, my mind started going crazy with all the ideas from my experience in foster care that might work. I decided on the topic of overmedicating children in foster care because I experienced that and also because it happened all the time to my peers in the system,” said Suamhirs. “I was very excited about being selected to participate, but the process was very intense. We were only given two days of training on the use of the camera, production of a video, etc. Spending time with the other youth from all over the U.S. that were in foster care like me and hearing their stories was very moving.”
Candace Kaimuloa’s video focused on her heart-wrenching story of entering the foster care system at the age of 11 with her four brothers, only to be separated into different foster homes. The separation of her family, due to abuse and neglect, left Candace struggling to come to terms with being alone, but thanks to the assignment of a Voices for Children CASA who worked with Candace and all of her siblings, their relationship was not lost. Despite being placed in eight different living arrangements in seven years, Candace was able to overcome many obstacles with the encouragement and support of her CASA, who continues to work with Candace’s two younger brothers. Now 19, Candace recently completed her freshman year the University of California Davis majoring in Political Science and Communications. She hopes to become an attorney or a broadcast journalist and continue making a difference for kids in the foster care system.
To accept her award, Candace traveled to New York City with a VFC staff member, and was honored at a luncheon hosted by CBS Television executives and the Board of Directors of the National CASA Association. “Winning this video contest was the most amazing thing ever. I am so grateful for having the chance to have my voice heard and being selected out of all the other individuals participating. It is a dream come true to be able to work with so many outstanding and motivated people. I still cannot believe I had this chance and I would not replace it for the world,” said Candace.
As co-winners of the “Fostering Futures Youth Video Contest” Suamhirs and Candace each received a quality edited version of their video, certificates documenting their participation in the video workshop, and camera equipment to continue exploring the world of video production. They continue to be active speakers as part of Voices for Children’s “The Real Word” program, in which former foster youth share their stories of tragedy and triumph to educate the community about the critical issues confronting San Diego’s abused and neglected children.
The videos can be seen by visiting:
Suamhirs Rivera Video: http://youtu.be/pun6GhmL6HY
Candace Kaimuloa Video: http://youtu.be/YebLpPwG2y8
ABOUT THE REAL WORD
“The Real Word” is a group of courageous young people who live or have lived in the foster care system in San Diego County and tell their very real stories of tragedy and triumph. Members of “The Real Word” have spent years in this system, often moving from foster home to foster home. Members of “The Real Word” were originally placed in the foster care system because their parents were unable to care for them or failed to protect them from abuse and neglect. These young people are open about their experiences.
“The Real Word” panel members are former foster youth, who had CASAs to help them locate foster homes, making sure their education is on track or ask the court for funding for clothing and medical care. Because the foster care system in San Diego has over 6,000 children, their needs often fall between the cracks. “The Real Word” Panel members are forthright in describing what it is to live in foster care. “As children, we have had to be the adults. We had to grow up fast.” While the system failed them in many ways, they have not become discouraged but are continuing to plan for their futures, including college, job training, and careers. As spokespersons for Voices for Children, they help inform the public of the importance a CASA has in the life of a foster child.
ABOUT FOSTERING FUTURES
Through the generous support of the Walmart Foundation, National CASA launched the Fostering Futures program in 2010. The program is designed to improve the outcomes of older youth preparing age out the foster care system, who are aging out or are at risk of aging out of the system. National CASA worked with 16 CASA/GAL programs across the country, including Voices for Children in San Diego. The Fostering Futures curriculum included a self-paced, online orientation that volunteers completed before attending eight hours of in-person training. Throughout the course of this training, volunteers explored the following topics:
– Unique CASA roles and responsibilities when working with older youth
– Federal laws that impact advocacy for older youth
– The needs of adolescent youth
– The differences (and similarities) between advocates and mentors
– The concept of “possible selves”
– Shared decision making/planning
– Addressing the challenges faced by older youth in care