For Stephan, a First Place youth from Contra Costa County, family means everything. At six-years-old he, his younger sister and older brother were placed into different foster homes when his mother was no longer fit to care for them. Being separated from his mother was hard on Stephan and not having his brother with him made it worse. With his father long gone, Stephan had come to look up to his brother and rely on him as a positive male influence. This emotional trauma was deepened later when, during his high school years, his brother died tragically in a car accident.
Stephan's time in foster care was filled with constant transition and he never had enough time to feel secure and steady in one place before having to move to the next. By the time he turned 18, he’d attended 14 different schools and lived in four different foster homes
. The loss of his brother and the instability of his childhood led him to rebel as a teenager. In high school, he ran with the wrong crowd of friends and occasionally stole food from grocery stores.
It was during this time that Stephan also started to fear what his life after foster care would be like. “I was afraid to grow up because I was worried about how I’d pay bills and about where I would live,” he remembers. “I was definitely willing to do what I had to in order to survive but there was no one there for guidance on how to do it the right way or to help me figure out the first step.”
That’s when Stephan learned of First Place from a contact at ILSP. After he emancipated, First Place helped Stephan get into his own apartment and on a track toward self-sufficiency. With the basic worry of housing at bay, he focused on employment and school. He utilized First Place’s Education & Employment services, attended financial and budget workshops and made a plan with his youth advocate. “There’s no way I’d know how to manage my money or make a budget without First Place. They helped me with my job search and support to stay in school and basically taught me skills to survive on my own,” he says.
Stephan is studying psychology full time at Contra Costa College, with a 3.3 GPA and a goal to transfer to a four-year university. He’s also employed and active in giving back to his community. “Having an apartment of my own and being independent gave me a sense of peace,” he said. “And it gave me time to think about the type of person I want to be.” Stephan ditched the friends who were bad influences and now volunteers as a peer educator to other troubled youth and also with his church’s program to feed the homeless. With the right mix of support and opportunity, he now feels like he’s on the track he always dreamed for himself. “First Place came through every time. For the first time in my life, I didn’t have worry about someone not coming through for me…which makes me feel like I can accomplish anything.”
He still misses his brother but has turned his grief into a positive force to help him achieve his goals. “Oh I still miss him everyday,” Stephan says. “But instead of just feeling sad, I work everyday to try to be more like him.”