The first steps from adolescence to adulthood are challenging for most.
With adulthood comes new struggles: Earning enough income to support daily necessities, balancing a budget for the first time, finding furnishings for a new apartment, and maintaining balance upon being granted a significant amount of freedom.
Most young adults stumble a bit as they begin their journeys down adulthood’s path. For most of these young adults, if they trip and stumble, they can return home to their parents and receive assistance to get back on their feet.
However, in the transitioning stages from adolescence to adulthood, a significant portion of American teenagers do not have a parental support system to help them regain their footing when their path to adulthood becomes rough.
In September 2008, 463,000 children were living in the foster care system in the United States. While most children in the United States’ foster care system exit the system to either a biological parent, adoptive parent or guardian, many foster children transition out of the system without ever reuniting with a parental figure. In 2008, 29,000 American children left the foster care system without a permanent place to call home. These young men and women were placed in a situation where they were forced to wade through the struggles of being a young adult without the assistance of a parental figure.
Luke Gregerson, a pitcher for the San Diego Padres, understands the plight of foster care children. Gregerson grew up in what he describes as a “tight-knit” family. “I have a lot of cousins and a lot of aunts and uncles and we’re all very, very close,” said Gregerson. One aunt, Patricia Obosla Katz, opened up her home to numerous children in the community needing a place to stay. One of those children was Antwan Turpeau. Katz ultimately adopted Turpeau and Gregerson and Turpeau have been close since.
Turpeau’s years in the foster care system prompted him to use his experiences to take action to better the lives other young adults in the foster care system. With two others, Turpeau co-founded the Illinois nonprofit organization Struggling Youth Equals Successful Adults (“SYESA”) to provide young adults in the foster care system with the tools necessary to overcome their past obstacles.
“I grew up in foster care the majority of my life. I used all of the things I struggled with while being in foster care to motivate me to become as successful as possible, to get as much education as possible, and to achieve as much as I can professionally. My foster-mother was very instrumental in me getting to where I am today, from having a graduate degree—a Master’s in Social Work—to having my own nonprofit,” Turpeau explained.
Through SYESA, Turpeau is able to ensure that children in Illinois’ foster care system receive the mentoring necessary to assist them in furthering their lives to overcome their past obstacles.
“What we do is provide individual life coaches who have also grown up in foster care and have overcome those struggles by going to college and finding a great job to demonstrate [to the foster care children] that they can live on their own. Life coaches come back and mentor other youth that are in the system now. We want to show them that you can make it; it’s possible. The best way to do that is to have individuals who have made it come back and help youth in that situation do the same thing,” said Turpeau.
When forming the board of directors for SYESA, the name of one board member was clear to Turpeau: Gregerson.
“He watched me go through[the foster care] process and we were very close when we were younger. We got closer when my aunt [and Gregerson's aunt] passed away three years ago. We wanted to make sure we developed a good organization to help youth the same way that [Gregerson’s] aunt and my mother helped me,” said Turpeau.
Gregerson is enthusiastic about his role as a SYESA board member. “I became a board member after its first year. Since then, I’ve been doing everything I can to help them out because, like I said, he’s my cousin, we’re family and we’re a tight-knit group,” said Gregerson.
On Thursday, September 22, 2011, after returning to San Diego from a three-game series against the Colorado Rockies and on the Padres’ only day off during a 13-day period, Gregerson hosted the Luke Gregerson Charity Bowling Event at East Village Tavern + Bowl in San Diego.
The event supported SYESA as well as Just in Time for Foster Youth, a San Diego organization which according to board of directors member Richard Richison “helps transitioning foster youth who are aged out of the system” by doing such things as providing mentoring, financial education and ensuring that transitioning foster youth have the tools necessary to start adulthood on the right foot.
Although the night was the Padres’ only off-night in two weeks, players came out in full force to support their teammate, community and foster youth. Players mixed and mingled with the event’s guests and were gracious in granting every autograph and photograph request. Most importantly though, there was a general excitement amongst the Padres players over their ability to give back to their community and support organizations which Gregerson is passionate about.
“We have most of the guys here from the team and it looks like we got the rest of San Diego out here in great numbers. It means a lot to show that as players, we’re able to make a difference and support the work that Luke put in to put this together while benefitting the kids,” said Padres pitcher Tim Stauffer.
Padres center fielder Cameron Maybin was quick to describe the Padres’ desire to give back to the San Diego community.
“In this city, these people really get behind us and support us. It’s our way of giving back. You have to appreciate the people who make it all possible and these guys who come out to support us at our games, those are the ones that make it possible. So it’s fun to get out and get to know the people who come out and support you,” said Maybin.
Turpeau voiced appreciation for the support the Padres organization and in particular, his cousin, Gregerson, have lent to SYESA.
“To have his support is really great. He’s a very down to earth guy. For him to stay grounded and make sure that he gives back, I love it. It means a whole lot to me, a whole lot to our family and it means a whole lot to our youth, for them to see that people at this level professionally really care about these kids,” said Turpeau.
Gregerson, however, points out that one does not have to be a professional athlete to support their community.
“I think everyone should [give back to their community] , whether you’re a professional athlete or just an everyday, normal person. Everyone should, because it’s beneficial to society in general when you have not just professional athletes helping out, but everyday people,” commented Gregerson.
With the leadership of Turpeau, the dedication of Just in Time for Foster Youth and the support of Gregerson and the Padres organization, transitioning foster youth are on better footing to take their first steps into adulthood.
To support or learn more about SYESA and Just in Time for Foster Youth, click the following links: