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California in Congress

Foster kids spend the day shadowing California members of Congress

Leonardo Jimenez, 21, of Los Angeles said after a lifetime in foster care, he never expected to have his congresswoman speak his name on the House floor, or to become a part of the historical record of the United States.

On Wednesday, Rep. Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles) spoke about Jimenez and the more than 100 other young people participating in the Congressional Foster Youth Shadow Program in a speech on the House floor.

“We have someone that is advocating for us that hasn’t been in our shoes, but is willing to take off her shoes and put herself in our shoes to know our needs, our wants and she’s very involved in our future,” Jimenez said. “She’s given me a voice.”

Bass started the Congressional Foster Youth Shadow Program six years ago, during her first term in Congress. The program has grown and now the National Foster Youth Institute runs the all-expenses-paid program along with several foster support groups.

Nearly 100 members of Congress from more than 30 states participated this year, Bass said. That includes 19 California members of Congress.

“The hope is that they build a long-term relationship with their member of Congress, so they can be the foster care expert, to keep that issue in their ear,” Bass said.

Jimenez said his goal for the trip was to talk with members about life as an LGBTQ foster youth. He graduates soon from West Los Angeles College in Culver City and just found out he’s been accepted to New York University, where he wants to study communications. After that, he wants to open an LGBTQ group home.

The conversation earned him a surprise hug from Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), who was the keynote speaker at the foster youth lunch.

Members of Congress who participate are expected to let the young people shadow them for the day, not just leave them with staff or send them on a tour of the Capitol. That means taking them along to vote, attend committee meetings or chat with constituents.

For Rep. Adam Schiff’s two shadows, Demontea Thompson, 23, and Johna Rivers, 24, both of Los Angeles, that included listening to the Burbank Democrat as he was peppered by reporters' questions at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. Afterward, they hopped in the back seat of his Audi for a ride back to the Capitol.

Jordynn Franklin, 20, of Modesto took over the social media accounts of Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Turlock) as they moved around the Capitol, going to a Transportation and Infrastructure Committee meeting, and sitting down with a few interest groups. She even got a chance to meet Denham’s French bulldog, Lily.

“We ran around like a crazy person all day,” she said.

Franklin asked Denham about creating a federal program where former foster youth help train new foster parents.

“We’ve already decided, we’re going to work together on putting some legislation together,” Denham said.

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