Volunteers work with kids in foster care


There are nearly 60,000 children living in foster care in California. Santa Clara County has about 1,300. The county also has a remarkable network of volunteers who work with the children under the protection of the court.

Briana Saldivar, a foster child, was 10 years old when Laurie Weber came into her life. That young girl was hungry for love and support.

"No one was going to her award ceremonies at school; she was a lovely student," Weber said.

That was nine years ago. The two are still friends.

"She was there for me if I needed anything, she was there for me and helped me be my escape from my everyday hardships," Saldivar said.

Weber is a court-appointed special advocate, one of 471 volunteers in Santa Clara County working with about 580 foster kids. The advocates are one of the few stable people in a child's life.

Child Advocates of Silicon Valley, a non-profit, runs the program.

"Social workers change, attorneys change, foster parents change, schools change, teachers change, there is no sense of continuity for that child," Child Advocates of Silicon Valley spokesperson Karen Scussel said.

A foster child must appear before a judge every six months. An advocate gets to know the kid so very well that he or she is allowed to make recommendations on behalf of that child.

"If they need help academically, you can request tutoring," court-appointed special advocate Jerry Fontanares said. "If they want to join a band but don't have the money, you could make recommendations to make sure he has an instrument as well.

Fontanares has been an advocate for the same boy for nine years.

"I remember going to the gas station and asking my youth, 'Do you know how to pump gas?' He shook his head and he said no; I said, 'Come on, I'll show you,'" Fontanares said.

Child Advocates of Silicon Valley also provides needed clothing and toys for children and teens. Advocates go through 30 hours worth of training and must commit for at least one year.

Nisha Ram is starting her training Friday.

"Make a small difference in one child's life so that they could have the same confidence, self esteem and to become a productive member of this society," Ram said.

Many advocates stay with the same child for years. Saldivar and Weber found a connection through their love for horses.

Saldivar , now 19, attends Evergreen Valley Community College and has started a support group for current and former foster youth in Santa Clara County called The Hub.

"Going into this, I think I was going to change this kid's life, but he ended up changing mine as well," Fontanares said.

Foster children rely on the kindness and generosity of strangers. Programs like Sleep Train's try to make it easier for those strangers to help.

Here's how you can help foster kids in the Bay Area achieve their dreams. ABC7 News and Sleep Train have teamed up for the Dream Campaign. All you need is your Facebook account! Just go to Facebook.com/abc7news and click on the Dream Campaign tab. For every new 'like' on our page this summer, $1 gets donated to Bay Area kids. Once you 'like' our page, or if you're already a fan, you can still spread the word to your friends. Just choose your favorite badge and share it on your wall.

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