Growing up in foster care, Jennifer understood that her life and opportunities were dependent on public policy and the legal system. She also knew that foster youth have no access to these processes and systems. "After leaving foster care, I wanted to make a real difference in the lives of other foster children and improve the conditions they live in," she says.
This goal for Jennifer wasn't easily obtained. After spending years in numerous group homes and institutions, Jennifer was emancipated from foster care to homelessness, without a high school diploma, job skills or any adult support in her life. Still, she managed to survive-and thrive. She graduated from San Jose Job Corps with a G.E.D. and vocational training. She went on to receive an A.A. at a local community college and then a B.A. with high honors from UC Davis. Jennifer then decided to attend law school at the UC Davis School of Law. "I believed that receiving a legal education would enable me to elevate the voices of children in foster care and to work on ensuring foster youth had access to justice."
And it did. Jennifer is currently the Legislative and Policy Coordinator for California Youth Connection (CYC), a non-profit foster youth advocacy organization, where she develops and coordinates all aspects of CYC statewide foster care legislation and policy agendas. "As a lawyer, I am now able to make positive policy changes for thousands of other foster children both in California and nationally," she says. "I also have access to decision makers who currently have control over so many foster children's lives, and I am able to utilize my status as a lawyer to help them recognize and be responsible about that power." Jennifer also works directly with foster youth, empowering them by teaching them advocacy and policy skills. "Knowing that every day thousands of other foster youth benefit from the opportunity I was given to attend law school is very gratifying."
Jennifer says that attending law school was an incredible opportunity to gain the education, training and confidence to be an agent of change. While at King Hall, Jennifer was awarded the Martin Luther King, Jr. Scholarship. "UC Davis Law School invested in me and provided a legal education," she says. "I am committed to seeing that the school is supported so that other students have the same opportunity. Investing in students this way can potentially make major impacts on the most disadvantaged and vulnerable communities and individuals."
While in law school, Jennifer was active in student and community organizations that supported children's rights. She was co-chair of Advocates for the Rights of Children, a Bergstrom Child Welfare Law Fellow, a law clerk at the Youth Law Center, a writer and managing editor of the Journal of Juvenile Law and Policy, a student liaison for the American Bar Association steering committee on the Unmet Legal Needs of Children, a board member for the National Association of Counsel for Children, and a community outreach officer for La Raza Law Students Association.
Jennifer continues to give back to the law school community through a gift of her time and energy, despite the fact that she works at a demanding job and is the mother of two young boys. "I will be forever grateful for the investment that UC Davis Law School made in me as a student, and feel it is my responsibility to give back the way I can."
Jennifer volunteers with the King Hall Outreach Program (KHOP), a program that prepares undergraduate students from disadvantaged backgrounds for the law school application process and exposes them to diverse legal fields. "KHOP students have so much to offer their communities if they are given the chance to enter the legal profession," Jennifer says. "They have overcome major challenges and possess incredible strength and potential. Their life experiences have taught them informal problem solving skills, and if they have the chance to receive a legal education, they will be able to use their strengths and experiences to be the best advocates."
Jennifer tells KHOP students that their life circumstances do not determine their potential or the ultimate value of their life—that, it is through education that they can accomplish anything. "Many students get excited when they realize, like me, that the negative experiences they have had in their lives give them an expertise and insight that will be a major asset."