Cal State San Bernardino

Former foster youth overcomes challenges to earn college degree

John Devine, a former foster youth member of Cal State San Bernardino's EOP Renaissance Scholars Program, achieved his mother's long wish of becoming a the first college graduate in his family.

That road was not without it challenges. When Devine was 12, his mother and grandmother, who both had raised him, died. With no family available to take care of him, he was placed in foster care and lived with four different foster families in six years.

Once Devine turned 18 and "aged out" of the foster care system, he pursued his mother's dream for a college education. "If I didn't do well in high school, I wouldn't be able to attend college and take advantage of the financial aid available, making me a high risk for homelessness," he said.

After graduating from San Jacinto High School as an honor student, Devine enrolled at CSUSB, and became a member of the Educational Opportunity Program's Renaissance Scholars Program. The program works with current and former foster youths-giving them much need support and guidance through the college application and college-going process.

It was the kind of structure Devine needed. "They set the bar high because they want us all to do well," he said. "The expectations are needed so that we can move on to the next level."

During his senior year, Devine mentored sophomores in the EOP Renaissance Scholars Program as a way of giving back to the organization that helped him succeed. "When we sit down and have our meetings, I let them know that they can achieve anything they desire," Devine said. "But it takes faith, it takes perseverance, to get there."

With a bachelor's degree in sociology and certificates in social services and gerontology, Devine's next step is graduate school at CSUSB's School of Social Work. He's already working full time with Children and Family Services of San Bernardino County as a peer and family assistant.

What is more, Devine is also an advocate for foster youth, having traveled to Sacramento and Washington, D.C., for the Foster Club to speak to elected officials and policy makers on issues affecting youth.

In May, he was also selected to attend the 2015 Congressional Foster Youth Shadow Experience in Washington, D.C., to shadow a Congress member. He met Judy Chu, the U.S. representative for California's 27th congressional district and discussed with her foster youth and improvements needed for the Independent Living Program as well as the usage of psychotropic medications sometimes prescribed to foster youth.

Inspired by his mother's dream, his own drive and the help of the EOP Renaissance Scholars Program, he says he looks forward to a career of helping others.

"Since most of my work is advocating for foster youth - that's my passion - so I don't take it as, 'Oh my gosh, I have to get up and go to work,'" Devine said. "I wake up with a smile on my face and say, 'It's a great day to change lives.'"

Looking back when he first arrived at CSUSB, Devine said, "I thought I was going to be in worse shape, honestly. I didn't believe that opportunities opened up doors." And now, "I'm happy I'm this transformed person.

"If it wasn't for the EOP Renaissance Scholars Program support and assistance the last four years that I've been here at CSUSB, I probably would not be graduating," he said. "I would not have had the support system that I have now. I would not have the friendships of all the staff at EOP who gave me a helping hand or a shoulder to lean on, who could tell me, 'You know what? You're not alone. We're all going to be with you.' Now I want to be an advocate for foster youth whenever I can."