Beyond Emancipation

Gena: On Her Way

At just 25, Gena has a lot of stamps in her passport. Gena discovered her love for travel during a summer service trip to Nicaragua when she was in high school. Since then, she has visited Thailand, Belize, Mexico, and Jamaica, where she taught children with learning disabilities. This summer, she’s going back to Thailand to backpack for a few months, adding Malaysia to her itinerary this time around.

“I feel extremely proud of myself for what I’ve accomplished after being in the foster care system,” says Gena, “and having to navigate through those years.”

Gena graduated in June with a BA in Ethnic Studies from Cal State East Bay, where she’ll enter the MSW program in the fall.

Getting here was no small feat. Gena says that despite having “amazing foster parents” who advocated for her from elementary school onward, she still felt unprepared for college.

“Because of the traumas we’ve been through and the barriers foster care puts up,” says Gena, “foster youth always have to play catch up.”

She struggled early on in her college courses, and says, “I didn’t know where to turn.”

Gena at her graduation.

“That’s where B:E came in. They really helped me with the things I was missing.” Through B:E’s b2b program, Gena received tutoring, funds for textbooks, and as she puts it, “help with both big and small things.”

Now, Gena has stable housing, a car, and no college debt. As a youth advocate at WestCoast Children’s Clinic, she trains social workers on how to engage with foster youth, a job she loves.

“I want to be an educational social worker,” says Gena, “because I’ve seen the impact Shanina has had on me. I want to help other youth navigate through school and relationships to achieve their goals.”

Gena also plans to do more teaching abroad. “I love meeting people,” she says, “and hearing the stories about their ancestors and where they come from.”

Traveling enriches her life in many ways, Gena says. “I met a woman in Thailand who had nothing and lived in a little shed,” she says, “yet she offered me food and was just so happy. That made me realize I could have a more positive outlook on my life and the experiences I’ve been through.”

“I have so many different things I want to do!” says Gena, and through B:E’s coaching program, she is taking steps to accomplish her dreams.

“Coaching was one of my favorite parts of B:E.,” says Gena. “Coaching is not like therapy. It’s more active. I don’t sit there and talk about my feelings with Leslie [B:E’s Lead Coach Consultant Leslie Brown]. We talk about action steps I need to take to travel more, do well in school, and get my master’s.”

In addition to helping her achieve her goals, coaching helps Gena build her confidence and resolve conflicts with peers, family, and co-workers. Gena has found coaching so transformative, she plans to become a coach herself.

“Coaching gives you creative ways to navigate to your goals by completing baby steps,” Gena says.

She plans to share this knowledge with foster youth when she becomes an educational social worker. Her other message to them?

“Keep going and don’t stop. Don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do something.”

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