By Melanie Williams-Galuten
Homeless, living in a car, taking care of two siblings, a young woman beats the odds and gets accepted at USC. A poor foster kid gets into Harvard and pulls himself out of poverty. A transgender youth overcomes overwhelming adversity in ‘the system’ to pursue big dreams of a career in law and public service and lands a gig at a big tech company.
True stories. Not movie pitches.
“If you are homeless in High School but get into USC…that’s an incredible story” says co-founder of Ready to Succeed, Pat McCabe. He and long time Palisades resident Romi Lassally co-founded the unique and extremely successful career and personal development program Ready to Succeed for foster youth only three years ago. They began with 5 kids and now they have 75 program participants attending or graduated from 12 colleges, including USC, Harvard, UCLA, Bryn Mawr, Wellesley and Columbia. Cue standing ovation.
But wait. The story’s not over yet. What happens next? Did you know that only three percent of foster youth are likely to graduate college successfully into fulfilling careers? 50 percent will be unemployed or underemployed. 29 percent will be unable to pay rent. 42 percent will be convicted of a crime. Ready to Succeed founders Romi and Pat are on a mission to change those odds with the motto: “Opportunity Changes Everything.”
Romi, an entertainment industry veteran and serial entrepreneur notes, “They have no soft landing. These students age out of the system at 18 and are forced into the ‘adult world’. My daughter came home after college for over six months…growing up is gradual.” After aging out of the system foster youth can face devastating circumstances and without support could end up in a life of poverty.
Romi Lassally and Pat McCabe are a formidable team. Throughout her successful career Romi was always deeply involved in mentorship programs and has made connecting underserved youth her life commitment. Pat, a Santa Monica resident, brings with him a wealth of experience in business and education as a one time big sports agent; former executive director of Covenant House and a founder of New Roads Elementary School. At New Roads he was involved with helping foster kids get into college, but he always wondered what the next step was for those students after they got into college. Pat felt concerned about what happened to them once they got there and how they were able to survive…with no money and no family, noting, “This is a rough ride for these kids…and the contrast with our kids is quite apparent.” He adds, “Graduation day is the greatest day of these kids lives, but it is also the worst day.”
Why? Because it is the same day they lose their housing, their food, their mental health counseling and their social circle. The little support they might have had gets yanked out from underneath them. It is like stepping off of a cliff but Ready to Succeed (RTS) is there to catch them. RTS beautifully fills a niche that has been overlooked by other programs assisting underrepresented kids. Pat is matter of fact, “There is a tremendous amount of focus on college readiness…getting them into schools but there is not a lot of college ‘stayed-ness’ …to solve all the everyday problems that come with being in college and not having traditional family support.”
Both Pat and Romi are devoted parents to kids who have been through college and they are very compassionate about affording some of the same support and opportunities to the RTS students as they were able to provide to their own kids. Pat explains,
“there are the simple logistics of that first week of school…no one is taking them to Bed, Bath and Beyond like I did for my kids.” He goes further, “my kids had us visiting on parents weekend. No one comes and takes these foster kids out for lunch.”
Romi adds, “our own kids have access and opportunity.” But she observes that for the foster kids, “there is absolutely nothing preparing them for the 21st Century workforce.”
Pat continues, “That is why we are a 6-year program and we are not just dropping them at graduation.”
RTS has blossomed into an incredible career and development program that guides and empowers LA foster youth from Freshman year in High School to College and beyond, providing the resources, professional training development and mentorships. Astoundingly, every single one of their 75 kids has a mentor, a professional adult who can act as a model and help them along. All of this leads to social capital and professional networks affording the RTS kids to land top internships and jobs.
Romi says, “One of our students pointed out that what we offer is the ‘hidden curriculum’ that’s absolutely essential for success. We are just trying to help them rise to their own potential.” And RTS has a star-studded roster of people lending a hand as mentors and supporters. Instead of their students going back to being homeless and or take a low paying job, RTS has set kids up for success at HBO, Snapchat and Google to name a few.
Pat is filled with pride at the kids’ accomplishments, “We always talk about our Ready to Succeed kids as superheroes in plain clothes.”
For more information, visit www.readytosucceedla.org