Editor’s note: For this year’s Book of Dreams fundraiser, The Modesto Bee is asking readers to donate directly to some of its favorite charities. They will be featured in occasional stories throughout the holiday season.
Watching and helping his mother and grandmother in the kitchen as a young boy, Terence Flagg learned he has a passion for cooking. Through Aspiranet, the 19-year-old Ceres resident is learning the life skills that will help him realize his dream of becoming a professional baker.
Aspiranet helps foster youth transition to independence. Flagg entered the foster care system at age 15 after his mom “met with a very bad person ... she got hooked up with him and got into drugs, sadly,” he said one recent afternoon.
I really love this place, I really did actually start to build my own success story here. I’m not stopping until I’ve got my dream.
Terence Flagg, speaking about Aspiranet’s Independent Living Skills Program
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He and younger siblings were under their grandmother’s care for a while, he said, but ended up separated. By the age of 18, Flagg had lived with 20 different foster parents, changed schools multiple times and faced several financial and emotional challenges in his young life, Aspiranet staff said.
He’s now living with a friend’s family in extended foster care – the friend’s mother became a certified provider – and continuing in Aspiranet’s Independent Living Skills Program. Through ILSP classes and peer support group participation, Flagg said he’s learned how to dress and otherwise prepare for a job interview, and how to conduct himself during one. He’s learned how to pay bills, budget/manage money and save for goals like buying a car and paying rent.
Flagg said he likes to dress to impress, although it can bring ribbing from young peers. They say things like, “He was bummy the other day – why’s he dressed up all good now?” he said. “But I like to dress up in a nice suit. I’m trying to get myself a nice tie, because that’s the only thing missing. I have my own suit … and sometimes I just want to walk around with that on to boost up my confidence. I feel important, I feel good about myself and I feel like I could conquer the world if I have to.”
When you walk into this place and it’s filled with youth, there is such an awesome energy and awesome feeling.
Ellyn Brannon, on the Aspiranet Independent Living Skills Program center on J Street in downtown Modesto
Flagg started in Aspiranet’s high school “B track” at age 16 and, after earning his GED, moved to the “C track” for young adults. He recalls being apprehensive at first because he’d gone through so many changes in his life and was wary of new experiences. “But as soon as I stepped in the door, I felt at home,” he said, with a smile that almost never left his face as he sat in the ILSP center on J Street in downtown Modesto. “The supervisor, Lisa (Cabral), is so sweet. … Every time she calls me, her voice makes me go from having a bad day to the most epic day.”
Cabral and Aspiranet colleague Ellyn Brannon said they’ve seen Flagg grow into a productive, confident young man. Through Aspiranet, Cabral said, he’s gone on leadership retreats and been active in leadership programs including California Youth Connection, “which participates in legislative changes for foster youth.”
Flagg is studying at Modesto Junior College and, through an Apiranet job fair, found employment at the new Smart & Final store in downtown Modesto. He’s weighing his options to continue his culinary-focused education: among them, the CSU Stanislaus and Sacramento campuses, San Jose State University and the Columbia College hospitality management program.
“When I was little, I always watched my mom and grandma cook and they always had a big smile on their face,” Flagg remembered. “I thought I want to be happy like that. ... I want to be a chef to this day.”
Aspiranet’s A Book of Dreams wish reflects the nonprofit organization’s recognition that foster youth typicall don’t have opportunities to participate in activities that many teens take for granted: high school graduations, senior trips or proms, which provide lasting memories.
Aspiranet would like to take 12 of the ILSP youth participants to California’s Great America theme park, where they can enjoy a bonding experience with their peers and build a lifetime memory. Spending the day with their peers, taking photos of one another, enjoying the rides and laughter relieves the pressures of daily life allowing for carefree fun for those who have never experienced such a trip. The youth will receive a stipend of money that will allow them to purchase their own meals and a souvenir keepsake of their special day together.
To learn more about Aspiranet, go to www.aspiranet.org/location/modesto. To donate, call 209-338-5444.