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Foster Youths Celebrate Victory Over the Odds : Achievement: Program at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion awards scholarships to graduates for education and living costs.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It was a graduation from foster care to being in no one’s care but their own. Not so much a new beginning as it was a middle passage, said one--an affirmation that, as children, they had gone up against the odds, and not only survived them, but beaten them.

“You never really leave anything behind,” said 18-year-old Stephan, who spent his senior year of high school in a group home and is going on to UC San Diego. “You pick up the pieces, put them together and make it whole.”

For the record:

12:00 AM, May. 23, 1990 For the Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday May 23, 1990 Home Edition Metro Part B Page 3 Column 6 Metro Desk 1 inches; 17 words Type of Material: Correction
Edward James Olmos--The name of actor Edward James Olmos was spelled incorrectly in a photo caption in Tuesday’s editions.

Such spirit was celebrated Monday evening at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, where 101 foster youths, bound for colleges or vocational schools, were applauded for their achievements and awarded scholarships to assist them in paying for their education and living arrangements.

Coordinated and sponsored by the county Department of Children’s Services and United Friends of the Children organization, the first “Independent Living Celebration” had all the pomp and circumstance of a senior prom and commencement ceremony with a few twists that would make a Hollywood premiere shine.

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Dressed in tuxedos and formal gowns, the teen-agers walked in front of a group of approximately 200 to the strains of singer Whitney Houston’s, “One Moment In Time.” And then the songstress, who had flown in from New York for the event, walked down the steps after them and finished the song.

Also there to honor the youths were actors Henry Winkler, Edward James Olmos, and rapper M.C. Hammer, who was the emcee.

It meant a lot, the teen-agers agreed, that they were more than a case file in some county worker’s desk drawer.

“Some of us became adults at 14,” said William, 18, who entered the foster care system at 12 and is planning to attend Cal State Dominguez Hills. “Our whole world was flipped over. Shattered. Some kids in our situations might consider suicide, but here you have 101 kids who decided we were going to fight to make it.

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“And now we’re graduating. We used to feel nobody cared for us. Then we found out they did care. They just didn’t know.”

Volunteers, soliciting corporations and individual contributors, raised $200,000 to help assist the teen-agers, said Nancy Daly, founder and chair of the UFC, a nonprofit volunteer organization dedicated to assisting youths once they are “emancipated” from the foster care system at 18.

“These are kids who dream like everybody else,” said Daly, who added that many foster children wind up homeless once out of the system because of a lack of money, support and options. “But they need to have extra help to fulfill those dreams.”

Despite the accolades and glamour, some of the youths admitted they had fears of going out on their own.

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Sometimes, said 18-year-old Richard, “I think what if I’m really scared, because I don’t know where I’m going to get the money"--to live, to go to school?

That is a question many newly independent foster youths ask themselves, said William, president of a foster youth support organization called the “Foster Youth Connection.” The other two, he said, are “where do I go from here. And who can help me?”

Finding the answers may be the worst part of leaving the county system. But Virginia, 17, could only think of what would be the best:

“I guess it’s knowing you don’t have to leave (a place) at a certain time,” she said. On your own “you can leave whenever you want.”

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