By ELIZABETH JOHSON, Herald TribunePublished: Thursday, November 13, 2014 at 3:35 p.m. Last Modified: Thursday, November 13, 2014 at 3:35 p.m.
SARASOTA COUNTY – Tasha Johnson’s dream is to work for a spa on a cruise ship.
The 18-year-old is starting with cosmetology classes at Manatee Technical Institute. Then, she plans to become an aesthetician.
When she learned she would need to buy a $450 kit to begin classes, she was afraid those dreams would be lost.
But the Children’s Guardian Fund — which partners with the Guardian Ad Litem program to provide resources to children in foster and state care in Manatee, Sarasota and DeSoto counties — covered the cost.
The fund also helped her pay for her prom dress, senior trip, graduation invitations and her cap and gown.
“A lot of teens take these things for granted, but I don’t,” Johnson said Thursday at the fund’s fall luncheon. “More than paying for things, this showed me there are people who care.”
Johnson and her younger sister moved around a lot after their mother died when they were 10 and 8, respectively. They were placed in foster care and ended up living in a girl’s group home in Bradenton.
When Johnson turned 18, she moved into an apartment. She was a senior at Southeast High School.
“I know some of you think it’s every teen’s dream to have an apartment, but believe me, it’s hard and scary,” Johnson said. “I felt alone. I was responsible for rent, utilities and getting to school on my own.”
Those in the room were captivated by Johnson’s soft voice as she shared her story.
“I’m still scared,” she said. “At times, I still feel alone. But I know I can do it and I will succeed.”
First in family to attend college
Alexis Hernandez, 18, shared a similar story.
More than two years ago, he and his three siblings were removed by the state from the care of their drug-addicted mother.
The four children moved into a home and his oldest sister became their caregiver.
His grades began slipping, and dropped from A’s to F’s in a single semester. He will graduate from Bayshore High School this year with a 3.5 GPA.
Hernandez credits his Guardian Ad Litem representative, who taught him to be positive and focused on goals. She takes him siblings out to dinner.
She got the Children’s Guardian Fund to pay his way to a Technology Student Association competition in Washington D.C. His team placed fourth out of 250 nationwide.
“It’s nice that someone out there cares for us and looks out for us,” Hernandez said.
He and his family take the bus to school, doctor’s appointments and the grocery store.
“We spend a lot of time studying at bus stops,” he said, garnering a chuckle from the room of supporters.
He and his oldest sister are in a driver’s education program sponsored by the fund. They’re saving for a car.
Hernandez intends to be the first of his family to attend college, with the ultimate goal of getting a degree in architectural engineering.
“Thank you for believing in kids like me,” he said.
The Children’s Guardian Fund hopes to raise $300,000 over the next year for the 1,100 children it helps.
Sen. Bill Galvano, who was the keynote speaker at the fundraising luncheon, pledged $1,000 during his address. He was also named Honorary Guardian Ad Litem.
Joan Geyer, who has spent two decades helping disadvantaged youth in the area, was given the Child Advocacy Award. She spent seven years as a Guardian Ad Litem and is now launching Everyday Blessings — an initiative to provide housing and support for young adults aging out of the foster care system.