Nonprofit helps foster youth rise to their potential

Phillip Blake, 20, grew up in the foster care system. As he got older, he said, he obtained a criminal record and rarely went to school. Because of his record, he also had difficulty passing background checks for jobs.

Blake said his life changed when he met Irvine couple Jeff and Lisa Myers. Because of them, Blake said he was able to find a full-time job, go to school and have a stable environment to live in.

The Myers run Regenesis Rising, a nonprofit whose mission is to help those who have "aged-out" of the foster care system.

When children from the foster care system turn 18, they are no longer qualified for the system and have to become emancipated, Lisa Myers said. Through bill AB12, the emancipated youth are given money, but it isn't enough to survive off of and the youth are given little assistance with learning how to utilize that money.

"People usually think emancipation means freedom, like rock stars who don't want their parents involved in their lives anymore," she said. "But these kids are not choosing this lifestyle. They can't help turning 18 and being let loose without life skills, which is the biggest thing."

Jeff Myers added, "They go into this system because they've been abused, neglected or abandoned, and they're essentially abandoned again when they turn 18."

Those who age-out are also more prone to homelessness, getting arrested or getting pregnant, he said.

"Just the cost to society alone is so huge, and it's all centered around foster care," he said.

The Myers, who had previously worked in youth ministry, founded the Christian organization Regenesis Rising a year ago, on Sept. 23, 2011, along with the help of John Tumminello, the group's primary benefactor and advisory board chairman, and Elias Hakimian, a friend they met at Rockharbor Church in Huntington Beach who now serves as a board member.

"Between the ages of 18 and 25, I think we make some really important decisions in our lives that set us on a course and our decisions at those ages are critical," Tumminello said. "I think we have an obligation to these kids and society in general."

At Regenesis Rising, the youth, ages 18 to 22, are given a place to stay for a "guest fee," starting at $300 a month, and provided with a series of mentorships, including budget and everyday life skills coaches. At the end of their two-year stay at Regenesis Rising, the youth are refunded their guest fees as a means of support. The youth are also encouraged to find employment and go to school.

"We say all the time that we're not just cheap housing, but we want to take the youth that want to move ahead with their lives and go forward," Jeff Myers said. "We want to provide them the support network that it takes for them to be able to do that."

The Regenesis Rising housing facilities, based in Costa Mesa, have live-in units with kitchens for the youth, as well as a gym with equipment Tumminello donated.

Blake praised the program.

"I'm getting more positive energy, and when I'm around these people, it just makes me feel happy and energetic because I know that they support me," he said. "They give us the options to do what we have to do to be productive."

Dora Magana, 20, the program's first resident, agreed.

"I feel safe and comfortable here," she said. "I feel like I've grown a lot as a person. I used to be really dependent on my mom when I was in a really abusive relationship at home. On one hand I'm alone, but on the other I'm not. I'm by myself but I have all these people around me, so if I start to slip, they'll put me back into shape."

Jeff Myers said, "These kids need a voice, and no one is speaking up for them. So, we're seeing God in so many biblical proportions helping and we get to be a part of it, so it's really exciting."

A team from Regenesis Rising will run in the Long Beach Half Marathon on Oct. 7 as a means of raising funds for the ministry. Registration varies based on running distance and registration date. Those interested in running on or sponsoring the Regenesis Rising team can email tara@regenesisrising.org. The marathon's deadline for registration is Oct. 6.

For more information about Regenesis Rising, visit RegenesisRising.org.

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