Empowering Foster Youth: YES! Conference Brings Inspiration, Solutions

Friday April 5, 2024

The annual Youth Empowering Success (YES!) Conference, held at Bakersfield College Friday, brought together more than 150 middle and high school foster youth along with caregivers, educators, and community agencies to help students forge a path to success.

The conference serves as a source of empowerment for the foster youth of Kern County, a place where their voices can be heard and their needs addressed. There are more than two dozen YES! chapters at middle and high school campuses across Kern.

“The idea with YES! is that it’s all about what the students want,” said Kim Silva, research associate with Homeless and Foster Youth Services at Kern County Superintendent of Schools (KCSOS).

A panel of foster students came up with the theme, workshops, activities and swag bags for this conference including the slogan: “Moving Forward: Dream. Plan. Achieve. Repeat!”

“It’s an opportunity for students to use their voice and change the foster care system, or improve the school system for foster youth so they can be more successful in school,” Silva said.  

Cynthia Ortiz, ‪prevention services facilitator with KCSOS, has coordinated the annual YES! Conference since 2017. She says the event is a chance for foster students to bond and relate to each other. 

“I think they come out of it at the end of the day knowing that they’re not alone,” she said.

The conference featured a lineup of activities recommended by the foster students. Participants had the opportunity to engage in interactive workshops covering essential topics such as self-care, goal setting, and cooking, in partnership with KCSOS and CALFresh.

Kristi Trahan, nutrition educator with KCSOS, demonstrated how to put together a basic recipe that the students can make themselves using inexpensive ingredients and utensils they can access. 

“It’s a really versatile recipe that’s healthy and includes a lot of nutrients. So we hope it’s something that they can take and do at home themselves,” she said.

Keynote Speaker Dee Hankins

Keynote speaker Dee Hankins, renowned advocate for student voice empowerment, spoke on the power of resilience, urging youth to harness their inner strength and overcome obstacles.

Community agencies were also on hand for a resource fair to provide connections, valuable information, and support for students. The KCSOS College & Career team offered guidance and insights into post-secondary education and career planning. Scott Raymoure says this conference is a great opportunity to reach a lot of students they don’t normally get to see.  

“Most of the students don’t know about these CTE programs,” Raymoure said. “It’s a great way for them to realize that no matter where they are, they can reach any career that they want.”

The students also advocated for some time to just be themselves and have fun. There were several carnival-like games available to play and prizes for the winners. 

“They get to just have fun and connect and make new friends and be with others who know what they’re going through,” Silva said.

The YES! Conference continues to empower and uplift foster youth, enabling them to reach their full potential and thrive as resilient individuals.

“To know that they have supporters out there, people who care. I think that is just fulfilling for them,” Ortiz said. “It’s fulfilling for us.”

By Katie Avery

By Katie Avery

Katie Avery joined the Kern County Superintendent of Schools in 2023 as a Communications Specialist. As a former journalist and marketing professional, her passions include media and storytelling. Before joining KCSOS, Avery worked for various local TV stations as well as the health care industry.