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Congressman helps ex-foster child for nonpolitical reasons

Who has the ear of American political leaders? We tend to think it's corporate executives, lobbyists and other people with big bucks and impressive titles. Maybe an occasional war hero or someone else in the news gets a few words and a handshake -- because of the photo op.

But this cynical stereotype doesn't always fit, and sometimes it's turned on its head. This is one of those cases. It involves one of our congressmen, Dennis Cardoza, and a young man with a dream.

Cardoza we know. He's the 18th District representative, a Democrat from Merced who has gained influence this past year as a member of the powerful Rules Committee. But Cardoza has a heart for foster children. He and his wife adopted

two of them, so he knows the many problems of the foster care system and the obstacles facing foster children. He knows, too, that once they turn 18, foster children are more or less shoved into the abyss.

The other key player in this story is Daniel Peterson, a 19-year-old who lives in a Modesto complex for young people who have aged out of the foster care system. Daniel survived his years as a foster child with two escapes -- reading and music. He still loves music -- he plays six instruments and composes, too -- and knows that many other young people do as well. They just don't have ready access to places to play or to record their music. Daniel's dream is to operate such a place.

Daniel is also much more articulate than many people his age. That probably ties to his other childhood diversion -- reading. The result is that he speaks persuasively about the potential of music and its ability to instill confidence that can lap into all parts of your life.

Daniel and Dennis connected through Estakio Hassan Beltran, a foster system success story who works for Cardoza specializing in children's issues.

Estakio's story is compelling, too. He grew up being told he wouldn't amount to anything. He recalls being so fearful of abuse that he went to bed shivering on summer nights. Despite attending five high schools, Estakio went on to earn a degree from Gonzaga University. He worked for a Washington senator and then hooked up with Cardoza.

Estakio spoke last month at the Power of the Purse luncheon for United Way, a benefit for the Pathways program of the Center for Human Services. Pathways offers shelter, counseling and other assistance to people ages 18 to 21 who are homeless and low-income. Many are former foster children. Among the people that Estakio met at Pathways was Daniel. "His story resonated with me," Estakio says.

And so Estakio, a former foster child, introduced Daniel, another former foster child, to Dennis, a man with a heart for foster children.

Cardoza has embraced Daniel's dream and is offering help -- not by writing a check, but by assigning his staff to be the contact point for people willing to help, whether by offering instruments or recording equipment or other resources. Daniel doesn't get everything handed to him; he has to follow through. So far, he is.

One connection already has been made. Daniel sent a letter to The Bee, which appeared Oct. 3. Brenda Francis responded on modbee.com. Under the umbrella of the Stanislaus Arts Council, she has created a small recording studio to serve young people. (For more information, go to her Web site: www.modestosound.com.) Brenda and Daniel will be talking next week.

We expect there are others who will be willing to help Daniel, either by providing musical instruments they no longer use or in some other way. The number to call is 800-356-6424. Yes, it's a congressional office, but politics isn't the only important thing to this particular congressman.

Sly is editor of The Bee's opinions pages. Reach her at jsly@modbee.com or 578-2317.

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