Julio Cruz is Passionate About Youth Success
In early March amidst growing concerns about COVID-19, many colleges closed campus housing and told students to return home. For many foster youth attending college, campus housing is their only home. Leaving college put them at risk of homelessness.
Julio Cruz saw this crisis as another opportunity to advocate for foster youth. Cruz is the program supervisor for CII’s Individualized Transition Skills Program (ITSP), which supports transition aged foster youth with academic and employment resources, as well as life skills for a successful transition into adulthood. When colleges told students to leave, Cruz and his staff stepped in to assert the legal rights of foster youth, which enabled those students to stay safely in campus housing.
Among CII’s values (Passion, Innovation, Partnership and Equity), passion is important in every role, but Cruz believes it is essential to anyone working in ITSP. In order to serve this population, Cruz says you have to bring a level of devotion to prove to young people that you’re there for them long-term.
Without the backing of passionate supporters, youth aging out of the foster system have struggled with high rates of school dropout and unemployment. In Los Angeles, 38% of foster youth will become homeless within the first 18 months of exiting care. Cruz knows these grim statistics all too well, and since joining the program in 2014, he’s worked hard to ensure youth avoid these outcomes and become successful.
“The commitment of our staff to these youth is what empowers them to change and grow,” Cruz said.
When a young person enters the program, he or she is typically behind in school or struggling in some other aspect of life. ITSP staff guide them through the transition into adulthood by serving as a combination of counselor, role model and life coach.
For Cruz and his team, this can mean driving a youth to a DMV appointment, working through college applications or shopping for work clothes. ITSP staff are always there to answer the phone and talk through whatever issues a youth is facing.
Besides helping youth on college campuses, ITSP staff have provided additional supports to foster youth impacted by COVID-19. Cruz said his team has been working to ensure youth have access to food, money and tools to stay safe and healthy during the crisis.
Evelyn Medina, who has worked alongside Cruz as an ITSP Supervisor, said regardless of the challenge, Cruz’s passion for ITSP always leads to him finding solutions. He regularly inspires team members and youth to reach their goals.
“He has a ‘whatever it takes’ attitude,” Medina said. “He’s always looking for ways to improve ITSP, and I admire him for that.”
Cruz believes his efforts pay off in the program’s results. Each year the team holds the Dream BIG Graduation celebrating ITSP youth who are finishing high school and enrolling in college. Typically, only 50% of foster youth will graduate from high school and only 13% will go onto college. In 2019, CII’s ITSP youth boasted a graduation rate of 94% with each student planning to attend some form of higher education.
While Cruz loves working with young people aging out of foster care, he is now transitioning into a new role in CII’s Prevention & Aftercare Program. Cruz is starting this new opportunity as the Prevention & Aftercare Supervisor where he will support family strengthening initiatives designed to limit child and family involvement in the foster care system. Though he is changing programs, Cruz’s passion for the work and supporting youth isn’t going anywhere.