“I was always ready to move, sleep in a new bed, one eye open, hoping and praying I would be safe that night.”
Growing up in the foster system from age 1, Stephanie Serrano (’10, sociology) says she was shunted aside by her foster parents and social workers, didn’t have friends and wasn’t allowed to play outside.
“It was only me. No parents, no family, no one,” she says. “The idea that no one cared about me was difficult. My heart constantly ached.”
Determined to survive the foster system and not end up homeless or in prison, Serrano knew she had to take charge of her future. “Knowing I wanted to go to college was the first step. Making it happen became my key objective.”
Serrano was one of 10 college students and former foster youth who were selected by the California College Pathways Project to share the challenges they’ve faced, their inspiration for attending college and their experiences with college life. At the Center for Digital Storytelling in Berkeley, they wrote, produced and narrated video stories that will later be featured on the California College Pathways website.
In her three-minute video, Serrano describes her struggles, her dreams and her desire to provide a better life for her daughter, Leilani Harmony. Although she rarely opens up about her childhood, Serrano was motivated to speak up for the many at-risk youth she watched fall through the cracks.
Serrano, who graduated in June with a bachelor’s degree in sociology and minor in gender, ethnicity & multicultural studies, calls the campus her home and “the most stable place I had.” The Renaissance Scholars program, which supports emancipated foster youth, played a major role in her success – providing a community of students, academic advising, scholarships and funding for emergency situations. The university also allowed her to satisfy her hunger for learning.
“I embraced the nerd in me. I loved it,” Serrano says. “When I was younger, I thought that it was a bad thing, but I learned in life that those are the people who are successful.”
Serrano’s first job will be as child & family specialist for Fullerton-based Crittenton Services for Children & Families, which works with youth in the foster system, juvenile justice system and mental health system.
“There’s a big need for social workers. Not a lot of people are targeting those issues,” she says. “Hopefully, I’ll inspire other youth to stop that cycle.”
To watch Serrano’s video, visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=EO94q-1rfBk. Learn more about the California College Pathways project at www.cacollegepathways.org and the Center for Digital Storytelling at www.storycenter.org/.