By Rory O’Sullivan, Staff Writer
Because of an undying passion for young people achieving their dreams, Lea Michelle Cash had a plan. That plan, starting off as Cash’s own personal dream, became reality when she founded The Brightest Star (TBS), a non-profit advocacy organization that supports abused and neglected foster youth in the Inland Region. And since that beginning in 2007, Cash has helped more than 3,000 young people through TBS.
“Every child has a desire to be successful and our role is to get in there and find out what it is,” said Cash.
According to Cash, TBS gives foster children hope and motivation through one-on-one mentoring, self-esteem building workshops, behavioral and cultural enrichment activities, and field trips.
“They [foster youth] are invisible, they suffer inside because they feel worthless,” states Cash.
She said a few of the foster youth have trouble fitting in because they have parents or immediate family members nearby which could lead to them feeling disconnected causing behavioral issues.
“All of the things that make them feel worthy to succeed to be successful in school to do homework to do all the necessary things to be successful in school,” said Cash.
Forty-five percent of foster youth completed high school, compared to 79 percent of the general student population and 41 percent of the foster youth who enrolled in college remained enrolled in community college for a second year, compared with 62 percent of the general student population according to a report done by The Stuart Foundation.
Cash is dedicated to changing the trend and has spent the last five years working with Rialto Unified School District connecting foster youth to resources and giving them help to graduate high school.
“We are dedicated to helping young hearts and young minds to gain the skills, knowledge and self-esteem essential to dream, achieve and empower their lives,” states Cash. “We are dedicated and committed to enhancing their self-confidence, educational journeys and cultural enrichment activities to establish and maintain a healthy self-worth.
“It begins with an action plan to heal broken hearts to believe in their success, and their greatness, despite the difficult circumstances that make so many in our Foster Care system not succeed academically, or as productive individuals in our communities. We are somewhat unique in that our approach, by operating with a “whatever it takes” attitude within each anchor, helps us to think outside of the box to make an impact on changing young lives,” she continued.
“Her contributions are invaluable,” said Bob Murphy Continuation School Principal George Bowser. “She helps them (the youth) with changing their outlook, basically giving them hope.”
She builds relationships with children and earns their trust, finding out what barriers are keeping them from having success in school. Some students struggle with academics and other students struggle with behavioral issues, but most according to Cash, just need to know someone cares about them.
“It’s amazing to see a child’s heart turn around,” said Cash.
Students she has worked with have been in music videos featuring Enrique Iglesias, gone to wrestling camps, spent a day with a celebrity and had a motivational pep talk by actress Tatyana Ali.
Cash said one girl who was abandoned by her mom broke down during a behavioral and cultural enrichment activity on the set of American Idol.
“All of the counselors, the therapists, the social workers, and the judges couldn’t get through to her. But having her go to another environment it all just came out.”
Cash said after that experience she was able to reach the girl and begin the healing process. She said the girl opened up to her in a way she never had before and the two of them sat on Hollywood Blvd. and cried and started dealing with her abandonment issues.
“There’s tears when you’re breaking down walls they’re holding in joy, laughter, fears, aspirations and then it all comes out.”
Cash said more than anything it helps foster youth just knowing she is a constant in their lives and she cares about their welfare. She has spent time crying in bathrooms with foster youth and received calls late into the night from desperate youth.
Karri Lauritzen, 26, a foster youth who moved around Southern California a total of 29 times, credits Cash with helping her see the light inside herself.
“You have to decide how it affects you,” said Lauritzen. “Even though I’ve been through so much, I look for the good in everything.”
Lauritzen said with the help of Cash she began sharing her story to help other youth overcome their struggles. She said she has been through “every type of abuse you can imagine.”
Now a professional model, Lauritzen received her Bachelor of Arts degree from California State University, San Bernardino and is getting her master’s degree in social work to become a social worker in a public defender’s office, working in child welfare to add her own experience of being in the foster care system.
“We must teach our foster youth to seize opportunities, open themselves up to change and the beauty of having fulfilled dreams and attainable goals that they consider out of reach,” said Cash. “Everyone who has achieved their goals and ambitions have been great dreamers. There is a special light that is dim in foster youth, and when they discover the power of their self worth that light begins to shine like a bright star in the universe.”
For more info visit www.thebrighteststar.org. To become a part of TBS dollar campaign visit any George’s Burgers or Coffee Nutzz location in Rialto.