I’d like to share with you my story of how hard work, motivation, determination, and a great community college have led me to realize what many people think is impossible for foster youth: a successful future.
I have four brothers and a sister; I am the oldest of my siblings, so I feel as if I am their role model. At a very young age, I was expected to take care of them. At times, I will admit that I have not been a very good role model.
When I was 11 years old, I developed an addiction to alcohol, a very combative relationship with my mother, and struggled to attend high school. My mother lost custody of my brothers and I during this time. My brothers stayed with their father in Colorado and I was placed with my father in California who, unlike my mother, had very strict rules.
I didn’t get along with my father and was often very rebellious. I was an immature child labeled with ADD, ADHD and bipolar disorder. I was angry, confused, and unsure of what to do or be in my life.
I longed for a healthy relationship with my father, but it seemed impossible. I was deep into my alcohol addiction and began having frequent, and often violent, fights with my father. Our fights began to interfere with my schooling, so I was placed in a residential treatment center in West Jordan, Utah.
At this center, I discovered that I am a leader and that I am resilient. I often would speak to my peers about their problems and worked with them to find solutions. At the same time, I was exposed to extreme violence at this center and was even stabbed by another resident. I tried to keep to myself; I just did my program and got out.
After I graduated from this program I was granted the opportunity move to a group home facility in Napa. In Napa, I was told on a daily basis that I would end up in jail, dead, or homeless if I did not take charge of my life.
I took this to heart. I was behind on my high school credits and jobless. Although I was the age of a junior in high school, I had enough credits to be considered only a freshman. I accepted the challenge to finish high school and get a job, and worked very hard to achieve both.
I graduated with my high school diploma in August of 2009, only two months after my regular high school graduating class. But I didn’t want to stop there; I wanted to further my education and go to college in order to pursue a career in law. And I wanted to go to UC Berkeley.
On my own initiative, I signed up for classes and financial aid at Napa Valley College and worked with the college’s EOPS program, receiving additional help and guidance from Napa Valley College’s counselors. I excelled immediately, and after two semesters, I was eligible to join Phi Theta Kappa, the college’s honors society.
At Napa Valley College, I met other hard-working and driven students like me and became part of a community of dedicated students determined to realize our dreams of earning a four-year-college degree.
I also got a job at the Boys & Girls Club of Napa Valley as a program assistant and worked daily to remind my club kids that anything is possible through education and hard work.
Because of my success in school, I also started an internship program at my old Napa group home in order to remind other foster youth that they too can break away from the system and succeed — that there are many resources in our community that will support them as they create their own paths to success and independence.
This fall, I began work toward a bachelor of arts in legal studies at the UC Berkeley as a transfer student from Napa Valley College. I am grateful to Napa Valley College for giving me the skills to develop and pursue my life dreams, and am truly thankful for everyone who has ever believed in me.
My time at Napa Valley College taught me the importance of community and self-discipline, and solidified my commitment to help other foster youth.
I have worked extremely hard not to become a statistic in our country’s foster system — homeless, in jail, or dead. I now know what it means to live a meaningful and responsible life, and I truly value the educational opportunities available to me and others like me. They have made a difference.
After I complete my studies at Cal, I hope I will be fortunate enough to attend law school and become an attorney. All things are possible through education. All things, including a product of the foster system attending Cal on his way to becoming a lawyer.
Tallerico is a 2013 Napa Valley College graduate.