Born in California in 1994, Jeramy Lowther Jr. bounced from state to state with his single mother, finally landing in Toledo, Ohio, where he discovered that growing up without a father in the picture was rough. At 14 he moved back to Sonoma County to reunite with his father, with unfortunate results. Between his father’s issues and troubles of his own, Jeramy found himself with no stable home, no parental support and no success at school. He became homeless and entered foster care at 16.
With guidance from the VOICES Youth Center in Santa Rosa and the Valley of the Moon Children’s Home, Jeramy eventually enrolled at the Hanna Boys Center in Sonoma, a residential treatment center with an onsite high school. This event was a turning point for him. “Hanna is definitely the place that I can thank the most,” he says. “They taught me basic life skills and all the things I needed to know at my age. I started the summer before my senior year with beginning sophomore credits and was able to graduate on time with a 3.14 GPA and a couple of scholarships too. I couldn’t have done it without them.”
Jeramy made more than one attempt to attend Santa Rosa Junior College, but he soon learned that taking classes without accepting necessary help was not enough to achieve success. He left SRJC, secured a safe a place to live at Tamayo Village and accepted an intern position at VOICES Youth Center. “At VOICES,” he recalls, “I saw a lot of services that people were able to get for going into school. I knew for sure that I was determined to go back into school no matter how hard it was going to be.” Thanks to the Independent Living Program run through VOICES, Jeramy learned about the Give-a-Gift program, which donates laptop computers to foster youth. “This was the nudge I needed,” recalls Jeramy, who received a laptop computer from Give-a-Gift earlier this year.
Jeremy re-enrolled at SRJC, only to discover that his homework for math class had to be completed online and that the computers in the tutorial centers were often taken. He found that owning his own computer was vital to completing this class, and to his continuing success.
The mission statement of the Sonoma County Medical Society Alliance Foundation reads, “We are physician families committed to creating a healthier Sonoma County by improving the lives of those in need.” SCMAAF’s Give-a-Gift Program has been improving the lives of foster children in our community for more than 60 years. The program’s impact is two-fold: it provides holiday gifts to meet the specific needs of youth in foster care, and it offers laptop computers to young adults who are pursuing higher education.
Removed from their homes due to abuse or neglect, foster youth often bounce from placement to placement, and they are likely to fall behind academically. Furthermore, between the ages of 18–21, foster youth “age out” of California’s child welfare system, meaning that they are “emancipated” without any funding. Many of them never reunite with their families, so if they do reach college, it is often without parental support or long-lasting connections. Without housing, education or emotional support, their future is challenging.
By continuing their education past high school, foster youth have the best chance of success—and laptop computers are essential tools for that success. Give-a-Gift began donating computers to local foster youth in 2007 and, with the help of its generous donor base, has since donated 15–25 computers per year. This year set a the high-water mark for donations: thirty laptops were awarded to youth attending Santa Rosa Junior College, Sonoma State University and several other schools in Northern California. To make these contributions go even further, the Give-a-Gift committee has partnered with Best Buy, which supports our foster youth by discounting computers, warranties and ongoing technical support. This year, the company also donated computer cases for all the students.
Give-a-Gift collaborates directly with the VOICES Youth Center and SRJC to identify students with the most need. VOICES (Voice our independent choices for emancipation support) is a community resource center where foster youth can access services to meet their health, wellness, employment, education and housing needs. VOICES Director Amber Twitchell observes, “Often these youth have been taught that they are worthless and that no one cares whether they succeed or fail. This program [Give-a-Gift] shows foster youth that there is a group of committed, passionate people that believe they can achieve their dreams and create a healthy life for themselves and their future children.”
While Jeramy’s initial SRJC plan was to become a mechanical engineer—he thought he would build his own robot or smart house—his focus has changed. During an internship at Sonoma Ecology Center, Jeramy developed a love of the environment. “I’m going for environmental science but want to get experience in mechanics as well,” he explains. “I want to know I can leave a mark on the world by creating a message of sustainability.”
Jeramy’s journey has had many hurdles and he’s experienced numerous setbacks, but he’s outgoing, focused, caring and very willing to share his story. His commitment to a positive outlook has helped him excel in many ways.
Jeremy’s success doesn’t have to be unique. Empowering more foster youth to fulfill goals like his is achievable, but it requires money. Give-a-Gift is fundraising right now, and your contribution can help students like Jeramy get the laptop computers they need for success.
To donate, or to find out more about Give-a-Gift, visit scmaa.org. ::
Ms. Robertson chairs the Give-a-Gift program for the SCMAAF.
SONOMA MEDICINE | Fall 2016 | Sonoma County Medical Association
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