When Alies Tapia re-entered America via Tijuana Mexico–it was not to pursue the “American Dream.” Alies’ journey is part of the nightmare experienced by over 687,000 children in the United States in 2016 and nearly 438,000 on any given day.
Although the reason Alies “came into care” is not the traditional pathway many children become a part of the Foster Care System–the experience of being torn from your biological family and put into the care of complete strangers was still as terrifying, traumatic and potentially tragic.
However Alies is authoring a story different than statistics say is possible for young adults aging out of the Foster Care System. Alies works at the Detroit Institute of Arts, volunteers his time to support community causes, is a proud licensed driver and owner of a 2010 Chevy Malibu and is 9 credit hours away from earning his high school diploma.
Alies has used his inspirational story as a vessel to help others in similar situations, speaking publicly about the challenges he has faced in the foster care system, participating in public forums and promoting the program he credits with literally saving his life. Alies spoke at The Children’s Center’s Fireside Chat, a forum designed to educate the community about the benefits of the Young Adult Self Sufficiency (YASS) Program, and poignantly proclaimed, “YASS has given me the opportunity to be someone I want to be–not someone I have to be.”
Alies–born in Riverside California, and raised in Tijuana Mexico from age 7-14–recalls a past that placed him on a path to be someone he had to be. As the second youngest of seven child with a mother and father embroiled in a life of crime, violence and drugs, Alies never saw a choice to live a different life in Tijuana. “It’s just a life style back home (in Tijuana)–everybody wanted to be a drug dealer–my parents introduced me to ‘the life’ and I became a product of my environment.”
Alies attributes his family’s choices to what he characterized as limited economic options in Tijuana and wages as low as fifty cents an hour. Such conditions lead to he and his siblings living in over 50 locations including with strangers, in motels and on the streets of Tijuana over a 10 year period. Although he is regretful for choices he ultimately realized were wrong, Alies explained that his day to day circumstances put him into a survival mode and was the impetus for many of his decisions.
Without support, resources and tools, 25% of young adults aging out of the Foster Care System immediately become homeless in America and are forced into a similar survival mode (that number grows to about 40% after a year) causing devastating consequences:
- 37% will become high school drop outs
- 80% of males will be arrested and 60% convicted
- 75% of women will become pregnant before age 21
- 90% will live in poverty earning less than $10,000 per year
Alies has steered his life away from the troubling statistics many young adults aging out of Foster Care face and avoided a fate that unfortunately his parents did not–his father was killed when Alies was 16 and shortly after his father’s death, his mother was sentenced to Federal Prison.
Alies’ path to the YASS program and the support, resources, tools and hope he so desperately needed came via a DEA raid at age 16. He describes that day as ‘the worst and best day of his life.’ “When I got caught, I felt like my life was over, but I know now that if I hadn’t got caught I would have ended up dead or in jail and never would have had the opportunities YASS has given me.”
Alies, who didn’t learn to read until age 8 and didn’t attend school from age 12-16, said his YASS Case Worker helped him achieve his goal of getting back in school and working towards earning his high school diploma. He attributes his “awakening” to being exposed to new experiences, great people and resources and tools provided by YASS. “Regardless of your background or past circumstances, YASS has the resources to change your life,” said Alies of the Program helping young adults thrive in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb County and like similar programs around the country producing astonishing results.
- 85% of Youth Graduate High School
- 84% of Youth are living independently or with relative
- 83% of Youth have graduated or are employed
- 77% of Youth have no involvement with Law Enforcement
Alies’ family in California declined reconciliation and he became a ward of the court at 17 opting to enter the YASS Program and move into a Host Home that became his new family. “My Host is more like an uncle to me than just a Host–we have developed a great relationship based on mutual respect and trust,” Alies says of his Host Home.
“Every day is a choice–you control your own destiny,” said Alies of the perspective YASS has given him. He credits much of his success and transformation to a great relationship with his former Case Worker Saundra El Meadawy and the trust, support and stable environment of his YASS Host Home. Alies says being exposed to “Global Minded” people and experiences in the YASS program changed his life and his future.
Alies is currently focused on his goal of getting his high school diploma and attending college to become a Marketing Director. He is committed to giving back to the community, his peers and the YASS Program. “I just want to do something good in life. I wish my mom had the opportunity YASS has given me–who knows she could have become a doctor or a lawyer or something,” said Alies.
Alies has told his story on Fox 2 news, been a guest speaker at The Children’s Center Foster Care Appreciation Dinner and will be one of two YASS Youth participating in the upcoming KidSpeak Annual Policy Forum at Wayne State University.