SAN JOSE, CA — Aleta Smith is an accomplished young woman who is working to improve the lives of foster youth. Coaches others on financial literacy while earning a graduate degree.
As an African American emerging adult and former foster youth herself, Smith overcame poverty, racial discrimination, and lack of family support to earn a bachelor’s degree from the University of California, San Diego. While many former foster youth experience homelessness or become incarcerated, Smith is now working on her Masters of Management and Leadership from the business school at Pepperdine University.
The 23-year-old is already highly accomplished, and her accomplishments are even more impressive, in light of the fact that less than 50% of foster youth graduate from high school, and less than 3% earn a bachelor’s degree by age 26.
Coaching Foster Youth to be Independent
In her day job, Smith teaches foster youth how to be financially literate so they can become independent. As a community relations specialist at Excite Credit Union, Smith has been working on financial literacy and youth savings accounts for the past year.
A few months ago she began helping to develop curriculum for the financial literacy coaching Santa Clara County is offering to foster youth who qualify for the county’s new basic income program, which provides monthly $1,000 payments to young adults like herself who are transitioning out of the foster care system. She is now coaching her peers in the basic income program.
Meanwhile, she is attending Pepperdine Business School to further her educational goals.
Smith is the first in her family to graduate from college. While she was studying sociology at UC San Diego, she had eye-opening discussions about race, women, and other aspects of society and how society works. “I’ve always been curious about people, how we develop and how much we’re influenced by our environment and others,” she said.
Smith entered the foster care system as a baby and experienced the unfortunate journey of most foster youth – living in multiple foster homes, moving to multiple neighborhoods, and attending multiple schools before finally landing at Unity Care, a San Jose-based nonprofit that provides housing and supportive services for transitional age foster youth. Independence has always been important to Smith; throughout high school she did independent study, which gave her the ability to keep her education constant despite the numerous foster homes and schools she attended.
For the past five years Unity Care has been both a source of stability and a springboard for independence for Smith. The agency provided support while she got her Associates degree at De Anza College and then earned her bachelor’s at UCSD, finishing the program six months ahead of schedule. “Unity Care moved me to San Diego. They allowed me to really be independent,” said Smith. “A lot of programs throw stuff down your neck and it’s overwhelming. Unity Care never did that … with them I just felt like I was a regular person.”
After graduating from UCSD, Smith moved back to the Bay Area, where she is living at one of Unity Care’s apartment complexes, working at Excite Credit Union, and continuing her education so she can build on her independence and empower her peers to become independent as well.
Continuing to Grow and Build
Smith overcame tremendous odds to reach this point. She is already using her lived experience to help other foster youth and is poised to create even more good in the world, but she still has hurdles to overcome.
Smith is grateful for her stable and affordable Unity Care housing, and she earns enough through her job and her $1,000 monthly basic income to cover her living expenses. But she needs help to pay her school expenses, so Unity Care is raising funds to help her.
“Just as we support the growth of our own children as they go off to college and find their way in the world, the Unity Care family is committed to standing with our youth as they continue their journey,” said Unity Care CEO André Chapman. “As the old African proverb says, ‘it takes a village to raise a child,’ so we are rallying our community to come together and raise $50,000 to help Aleta continue her graduate school education and gain more tools to improve people’s lives and make the world a better place.”
For more information or to make a gift to help Aleta with her education, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Unity Care
Founded in 1993 to provide quality youth and family programs for the purpose of creating healthier communities through life-long partnerships, Unity Care serves transitional age foster youth in seven Northern California counties. The agency delivers culturally proficient and trauma-informed services centered around Unity Care’s five pillars of success — housing, education, employment, well-being and unconditional care. Unity Care is nationally accredited by the Council on Accreditation (COA).
(408) 971-9822, ext. 4028