Founded in June of 2011 as an official, philanthropic program of the Riverside County Bar Association (RCBA), Project Graduate works in collaboration with the Riverside Superior Court and Riverside County’s Department of Public Social Services (DPSS) to assist foster youth to graduate high school, to continue their education beyond high school, and to plan for a successful future.
In 2011, RCBA members discovered that foster youth have a less-than 50% high school graduation rate - a product of a high likelihood of changing homes multiple times in a school year, enrollment in low-performing schools, and lack of consistent monitoring of their academic progress. As a direct result, they are at high risk for homelessness, unemployment and sexual exploitation when they reach age 18, emancipate out of the foster system, and are left to their own devices at this young, still-impressionable age.
Without the ability to actually foster these at-risk youth, the RCBA attorneys sought a way to help them using the skills and abilities the RCBA has an abundance of: the ability to provide advocacy, representation, guidance and a sympathetic ear. Working with DPSS and the Riverside Superior Court, a program was developed to provide attorney volunteers to advocate for these young people, and to help them grab hold of the one tool we could give them to lift themselves above the high risk of homelessness and exploitation: successful completion of high school. RCBA turned to its membership to recruit and train volunteer Educational Representatives. DPSS could then identify the most at-risk foster youth, and match them with those volunteers. A Juvenile Court bench officer would then oversee the students' progress during a monthly Education Calendar.
RCBA Members who have gone through training and are approved by DPSS as volunteers will be appointed as the educational rights holder of foster youth participating in the program, by court order (Judicial Council Form JV-535).
We currently have eighteen RCBA members trained to serve as Educational Representatives. Thirteen RCBA members are active Educational Representatives for the 2023-2024 program year and more are answering the call to serve and are in the process of completing the training they need to become court-appointed Educational Representatives.
Since its inception in 2011, Project Graduate has helped fifty-five (55) foster students graduate from high school with a diploma or GED.
The willingness to serve is there, and representatives are available to provide their (extensive) time and attention to the foster youths’ needs. Due to the fundraising efforts of the Chair of the Project Graduate Steering Committee, we currently have the economic resources to provide them with everything they need to succeed. In each month of the program year (8-9 months), program participants receive lunch and a gift card for attending the Educational Calendar. They also have the opportunity to earn points, which translates into dollars on a 1:1 basis, which they will receive in the form of a check, once they successfully complete the program. There are ten (10) categories in which points can be awarded as follows:
They also receive a holiday gift, a birthday gift, and a gift card if they attend at least half of the monthly educational calendars overseen by a Riverside Superior Court Juvenile Judicial Officer.
In addition, we provide those foster youth who successfully complete our program and graduate from high school with:
Additionally, when individual students have specific educational needs, these needs are brought before the Project Graduate steering committee for consideration.
Please help us to say “yes” to these needy requests and to our continued ability to provide our students with the tools and resources they need to be successful, independent adults. Please help us to encourage those foster youth who take it upon themselves to take the initiative to work hard despite all of the challenges they face, to succeed, and, in turn, to go on to help those that follow in their footsteps.
Project Graduate Needs Volunteers to Mentor Foster Youth!
The process of becoming a mentor or Educational Representative for these students, is straightforward, involving a background check, a LiveScan (fingerprinting), a short training program, and appointment by the judicial officer who oversees the Education Court program.
If you can't take on the role of an educational representative or a mentor, there are opportunities to help out on the steering committee, like: helping to organize and present special activities such as career day, keeping track of resources to help educational representatives do their work, coordinating volunteer recruiting and training, raising funds for the student incentive program and many other activities.
The duties of an educational representative are varied, but include and are not limited to, the following:
Each educational representative handles their students differently. Some are cuddly, some are not, which is fine. As an Educational Representative, you will gauge your assigned student to see how he or she would like to be handled. You would provide your contact information to your student to reach you, so if you want to set up a different email address and cell phone number, that is fine too.
We try only to assign one student per representative, but if you are available to handle two students, please let us know. We also attempt to assign students by geographical location, so that the Educational Representative is closer to the student’s school.
Please watch our videos, which were produced by DPSS:
If you are interested in learning more about Project Graduate, please email L. Alexandra Fong, Chair of the Project Graduate Steering Committee at RCBF.ProjectGraduate@gmail.com
Donations to the Foundation and Project Graduate are accepted at any time. Checks should be made payable to Riverside County Bar Foundation, Inc. and mailed to the following address:
Riverside County Bar Foundation, Inc.
4129 Main Street, Suite #100
Riverside, CA 92501