Valley of the Moon Children’s Foundation presents scholarships to 24 former foster youth

Since the foundation’s scholarship program began 10 years ago, 154 scholarships totaling more than $550,000 have been awarded.|

ust before she entered the foster-care system, Jessica Zambrano was living in a shelter with her family, working three janitorial jobs, cleaning local department stores, the Apple Store at the Santa Rosa Plaza and several stores at Napa Premium Outlets.

She was only 17, a high school dropout supporting her ailing mother and three siblings she now views as her own children. When her mother got admitted to a hospital in San Francisco for a heart condition, Zambrano and her siblings were sent to Valley of the Moon Children’s Home, a group home for abandoned, neglected and abused kids.

She was there for only one month before she went to live with her biological father. But it was enough to establish an enduring and supportive relationship that foster children and Valley of the Moon supporters compare to family.

On Monday, Zambrano, 19, received a $3,000 education scholarship from Valley of the Moon Children’s Foundation to help her further her education. Zambrano, currently getting her associate’s degree in administration of justice at Santa Rosa Junior College, said she hopes to one day obtain a master’s degree in education from California State University, Northridge.

Zambrano is among 24 current and former foster youth receiving scholarships from the foundation this year. Since the foundation’s scholarship program began 10 years ago, 154 scholarships totaling more than $550,000 have been awarded.

This year, the foundation was flooded with applications, awarding more than $91,750. Nine of the 24 recipients attended an awards ceremony Monday at the Wild Oak Saddle Club in Oakmont.

Laura Colgate, president of the foundation’s board of directors, said the aim of the scholarship program is to help former foster youth find their own way, whether it’s trade school, junior college or a four year university.

“It’s really not us trying to fit them into what we think they should be doing,” Colgate said. “It’s them determining their own future pathway and helping them with that.”

Santa Rosa attorney Jack DeMeo, a member of the foundation board since its inception, said the scholarship program is the foundation’s most important accomplishment next to the construction of the new Valley of the Moon children’s home, which was opened in 2005. The foundation itself was formed in 1994 by Judge Arnold Rosenfeld as a way of supporting the old facility.

The scholarships are a recognition that foster youth, like all young people, need a helping hand after they get out of high school.

“We wanted to help the kids when they aged out, to fulfill their education endeavors,” said DeMeo.

At the ceremony, DeMeo handed out the scholarships to those recipients who attended the event. He also announced his departure from the board, saying, “It’s time for younger people to get involved.”

Other recipients included Gino Davenport, 25, a Santa Rosa Junior College student who received a $3,000 scholarship to further his plans to pursue a career in nursing.

Danielle Hansen, 23, received a ?$6,000 scholarship. Hansen, who entered the foster system after her parents were jailed, is getting a bachelor’s degree in communications with a minor in statistics. At Sonoma State, Hansen helped create Seawolf Scholars, a program that helps guide foster youth toward education and social services resources.

“The foster community is near and dear to my heart,” Hansen said.

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