Youth Trainer Bios

Meet Our Y.O.U.T.H. Trainers!

Each year we recruit a fresh group of Y.O.U.T.H. trainers. At any given time, we have a mix of both new and seasoned trainers, ranging in age from 16 to 24. To date, we have trained 120 youth, who have reached 6,700 child welfare professionals!

youth trainerJoyce Anderson was placed in foster care in 2002 with her younger sister. She works for Project WHAT, a youth-led project that assists children of incarcerated parents. She plans to go to UC Santa Cruz after she graduates high school in 2009, and on to become a social worker, helping foster youth around the world discover their strengths, and encouraging their success. After she turns 18, Joyce plans to be adopted into the family she and her sister have been with for over two years.

youth trainerJeremy Garcia emancipated from Santa Clara County after almost ten years in foster care. He is struggling to find a career but will take any opportunity he can to advocate for his fellow foster youth. He is a founding member and youth staff of The Hub Drop-In Center in San Jose where he helps current and former foster youth get the resources they need for independence and success.

youth trainerMercedes Keesee is an engaged, single mother of two. She was raised in kinship care, non-relative care and group homes. She is currently a full-time mother.


youth trainerElias Lopez emancipated from Sacramento County. He is currently working towards his bachelor's degree in business and marketing. Aside from schoolwork, he is involved with many advocacy groups and has trained both youth and professionals on leadership and personal development. He enjoys traveling and learning from the many adventures that come his way.

youth trainerDeja Packard is 22 years old, attending Chabot College in Hayward, CA, and planning to transfer back to California State University, East Bay this year. She is majoring in Biology and her career goal is to become a Pediatric Doctor.

youth trainerMichael Place is a foster care practice and policy reformer who believes every child should have a fair chance at becoming a victor instead of a victim. He is 23 years old and has been advocating for his community for over eight years. He recently began his journey to complete his Masters of Education in Leadership and Change at Antioch University in Los Angeles.

youth trainerOnikah Porter is a former foster youth from Riverside County. She is currently a third-year Guardian Scholar at Cal State Fullerton, where she majors in History. Onikah is employed at Orangewood Children’s Foundation and Orange County Department of Education, where she hopes to foster change in the foster care system.

youth trainerSuamhirs Rivera is a foster youth from San Diego. He entered care at 16 and emancipated three years later. Suamhirs attends San Diego City College and works full time at Casa Cornelius Law Center. Suamhirs is also a volunteer speaker with Voices for Children, and hopes to pursue a career as an attorney for unaccompanied immigrant minors.

youth trainer

Brianna "Princess" Robertson is 21 years old. She works for CASA's Youth Speakers Bureau and the Y.O.U.T.H. Training Project. She is very passionate about being able to be a voice for foster youth. Brianna is a full-time student at San Francisco State University working towards a Child Development degree with a minor in Child Worker. She is also a proud new mommy.

youth trainerRuby Louise Rosas entered foster care as a baby but was eventually placed in kinship care with her grandmother. Ruby received her Bachelors of Fine Arts in Fashion Merchandising from The Academy of Art University. She works as a personal stylist in San Francisco. Ruby has been involved with California Youth Connection and the Y.O.U.T.H. Training Project for over three years. She aspires to get the voices and perspectives of foster youth heard.

youth trainerDamond Sladen is the youngest of six kids raised in Newark, California. He graduated from Newark Memorial High School, and now attends Ohlone College. He plans to be an English teacher.

youth trainerHelen Weaver entered foster care in Humboldt County when she was 15 and emancipated at 18. She is currently a student at College of the Redwoods, participating in the Honors Program, heading up the Honors Advisory Board, and serving as President of the Bridge-way Club. Majoring in Business Administration and Economics, she hopes to transfer to UC Berkeley. She is committed to promoting social justice throughout her life.