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Grants available for foster youth

Andy Atkinson / Mail TribunePhoenix Ramirez studies on his computer at his apartment in Ashland.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribunePhoenix Ramirez studies on his computer at his apartment in Ashland.

Like many people, Phoenix Ramirez had a rough 2020 and a not-much-better 2021. The 21-year-old Southern Oregon University senior lost his main source of income not long after COVID-19 hit, which had him questioning his career choice.

Unlike most, however, Ramirez had plenty of experience bouncing back from life’s unexpected pitfalls. That’s because Ramirez lived in 13 different foster homes in 14 years before aging out of the system three years ago.

After a year full of bad news, Ramirez finally received some good news Wednesday, when he found out that he had been awarded a $2,000 Expanded Chafee Educational and Training Grant from the Oregon Department of Human Services as part of a program designed to help teens and young adults between the ages of 14 and 26 who are in foster care or had experienced it as youths.

The deadline to apply for the grant, which is available to newly eligible students and students who may have paused their studies during the pandemic, is Aug. 1. Also available through DHS to current and former foster children are emergency cash assistant grants (deadline Sept. 30).

Ramirez, the SOU student body president, said he was surprised when he learned that he would be receiving the financial help he asked for to replace his unreliable car.

“Kind of shock and relieved,” he said of his emotions upon hearing the news. “I’m the type of person that I really don’t like to ask for help, but it really was nice when I got approved for it because it’s overall one less thing I have to worry about and I can reach my goals easier.”

The money could hardly come at a better time, he said.

“Basically, it just means that I can get my life back on track,” Ramirez said. “My career goal is I want to be an actor, so it involves a lot of traveling and stuff like that. So basically this $2,000 is going to help me get back on track to where I was before the pandemic. Because during the pandemic I unfortunately lost the majority of my income, had to apply to jobs I’m not interested in just to keep the lights on, and it was overall just a hard time for me because I’m very extroverted.”

Funds for the Expanded Chafee Educational and Training Grants were written into the 2021 Federal Consolidated Appropriations Act, passed by Congress in December of 2020, and were intended to support postsecondary education studies to eligible students who hold a high school diploma or GED and are current or former foster children. Those eligible could receive a grant of up to $12,000.

The emergency cash assistant program was also included in the Consolidated Appropriations Act and is to assist young people who experienced foster care and who have been negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ramirez bounced around from home to home in Wallowa County, Wasco County and the Portland area throughout most of his youth and credits his first foster parent with helping him navigate the hardships. An emergency placement was in order when he first came into care, he said, and it was his preschool teacher at the time who stepped up. That teacher eventually became a DHS caseworker, and she oversaw Ramirez’s case throughout most of his foster care experience.

“She was my caseworker up until I aged out at 18,” Ramirez said. “She was basically a second mom to me, which is very, very rare. That’s where the extreme part comes in. Because of that, I had a second mother through her and a great support system that not many foster youth have.”

Visit fosterclub.com/orhelp for information about the emergency cash assistance, and oregonstudentaid.gov for information about the Expanded Chafee Educational and Training Grant.

Joe Zavala can be reached at 541-821-0829.