Author Archives: lauren

Interwoven Voices: Conversations on Change

The following blog post was written by C3 2017 artist, Melody Overstreet. She summarizes her experience with the process of developing her artwork, Interwoven Voices alongside current and former foster youth during our C3 meetings.

One question that I have sat with throughout this exhibition, and that I continue to carry with me is, how do we inspire a shift from care and good intention to a place of deliberate action? What do we do in the face of a challenge that is so massive in scale? One approach is to take actionable steps, one at a time.

As an artist and educator, I have learned a lot from the Creative Community Committee meetings, the art-making process, and the presentations by youth and youth advocates. Throughout this experience, youth identified and directed the elements most essential to communicate through this exhibition. I am grateful for the opportunity I had to hold space and listen. There are basic physical needs to survival and well being. In my conversations with youth, the importance of psychological perspectives surfaced. It is paramount that we support the physical well-being of youth, while also meeting emotional, psychological, and spiritual needs through the ways in which we approach our relations, and hold space for their unfolding as whole human beings.

During some of our C3 meetings, several youth inquired about weaving. Creating a collaborative weaving made itself steadily more evident as a fitting medium and process to amplify the self-identified needs of transition-aged youth. This collection of interwoven voices highlights youth-identified needs and perspectives, offering a list articulated and hand-written by youth that provides opportunities for meaningful action.

Weaving lends itself as a powerful metaphorical act. I think about individuals as part of a larger society— like single threads woven as part of a larger tapestry. I see that as people we have more in common than apart, and that our various lives inevitably intersect. I am inspired in a life-long call to action to meet the needs of youth, to support their individual and collective resiliency, for a society that is rooted in an ethos of care and responsibility for one another. I see clearly that we cannot have a healthy society unless we care for all children. When a vision is shared, the actions of individuals accumulate and have the collective power to shift the tides.

What is our responsibility to future generations? How can we meet the needs of our current generation, and work to change ourselves and the system to deeply address the personal and cultural shifts necessary to provide for future generations?

This work communicates about the “little things” that we can do to support youth aging out of the foster care system. The idea to focus on the “little things” was inspired by MAH intern Karen’s personal insight. Karen shared the idea that as a youth, when experiencing hardships, that the “little things” made a huge difference in her daily life— this included when someone baked her a cake for her birthday, which is a reminder of the soft power of thoughtful gestures.

Alongside the installation, Interwoven Voices, is an installation of Take Action cards. These take-away action cards include the “little things” articulated by youth and youth advocates that have the power to make a meaningful difference in a youth’s current transition and life. The MAH has made these suggestions accessible by printing them on a corresponding card with details of how to achieve that specific action. We are being called to action in a number of ways— through the “little things” first and foremost to support youth in transition, as this is a current and pressing need. We also need to take a deep critical look at the root causes of disruption in family life.

Certainly, these youth carry much wisdom, perspective, and insight, and I am honored to have had the opportunity to hear their ideas and work alongside them. Many youth are demonstrating courage and thoughtful leadership by using their voices to advocate for themselves and for future generations.

In conversation with community member Devin Gonzales, I had an opportunity to broadly discuss the systemic issues and challenges that children and some parents face, challenges that can disrupt family life, and ongoing issues of oppression that variably impact lives. It is not surprising that youth of color are disproportionately represented in the foster care system, as this is an extension of racism. While we take much needed action on the “little things,” it is equally essential that we dismantle the complex and interworking systems of oppression.

Collaborating with Youth and Youth Advocates, partaking in C3, learning from the thoughtful Foster Youth Museum, and working alongside the Museum of Art & History has been a profound opportunity for me, for which I am humbled. This work is ongoing, and I am grateful that the space is being held to bring focused attention and growing awareness to the experiences of youth, as this is one way to heal our current and future generations.

I have been reflecting a lot on a poem by Lu Hsun, that reminds me that Hope requires that we move our feet:

“Hope cannot be said to exist, nor can it be said not to exist. Rather, it is like a dirt road across the Earth. For originally, there were no dirt roads. When many people walk one way, a path is formed.”

Pop Up Museum with Cabrillo Guardian Scholars

On September 12-13th, C3 Partners, Cabrillo Guardian Scholars hosted a Pop Up Museum to highlight their students’ achievements. Below is a summary of what it was about, how it went, and what people shared. View more photos and read the original post here.

What was it about?

At this year’s Student services showcase event The Guardian Scholars program was excited to collaborate with the MAH to host an “Achievements Unlocked” pop up. The Guardian Scholar Program supports current and former foster youth, we wanted a way to engage a larger student population at the welcome week event and thought a pop up would be the perfect thing.

*We hosted two consecutive Pop Up Museums. Our first took place on Tuesday, September 12th at our Aptos campus, while our second took place the next day on Wednesday, September 13th at our Watsonville Campus. Below is a summary of both Pop Up Museums.

About Our Theme: Achievements Unlocked

You’ve reached a new adulting level. What was your “ah-a!” moment that led you to Cabrillo? Where do you want to go from here? We all have our own education path, but how did we get there? What were your achievements along the way? It starts with a source of inspiration and a mix of passion, motivation and curiosity. Whether students in school, or as life-long learners, we all have that lil’ something that we are proud of. What is it for you? Share an object and tell your story.


How did it go?

Since this occurred during a school day on campus, instead of objects students shared stories, statements, and art produced right at the pop up! The pop up allowed for students to reflect back on something they were proud of. And many times surprisingly enough someone would say, well I haven’t achieved anything yet….but after some conversation they’d say “I was the first in my family to go to college”, “This is my last semester at Cabrillo before transferring”, or “I’m in School, but it wasn’t originally part of my plan”. We saw all of these as huge achievements, and the thing is once shared, it got people talking about how an achievement resonated with them.

What was most surprising was how many times people would start by saying I’m not…, or I haven’t… but after taking time to reflect, they truly realized what they had achieved. It was a great opportunity to see growth mindset at work, and how simple conversation can make a huge different to how a person see’s themselves.

We appreciate everyone sharing their achievements, and the rich conversation’s that came from the event!


Cabrillo Guardian Scholars Program

Lost Childhoods: Voices Santa Cruz County Foster Youth and the Foster Youth Museum

Lost Childhoods gets a shoutout from California Youth Connection!

 In August, Foster Youth Museum and California Youth Connection (CYC) released a heartfelt e-blast that highlighted the Lost Childhoods exhibit. CYC is a youth led organization that develops leaders who empower each other and their communities to transform the foster care system through legislative, policy, and practice change. Click here to read the message in a separate browser.

Foster Youth Museum Makes Waves in Santa Cruz 

Wow! Over 4,500 community members visited the Lost Childhoods exhibit on opening night at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History (MAH) last month. Since then, more than 6,000 people have visited the nation’s largest collection of art, artifacts, and video portraits about youth experiences in foster care. 

The exhibition is a culmination of a six-month collaborative process between the Foster Youth Museum and more than 100 current and former foster youth, artists, and advocates. Lost Childhoods features personal belongings of foster youth, photography by Ray Bussolari, and four art installations created by foster youth in collaboration with artistsBridget Henry, Melody Overstreet, Elliott Taylor, and Nada Miljkovic.

CYC staff and members at opening night

“Foster youth museum was conceived of by former foster youth from California,” explains Jamie Lee Evans, director of Foster Youth Museum. 

“It was developed while writing curriculum on how to train social work supervisors on how to do more successful social work with teenagers. What we kept hearing from the young people who had written the curriculum was, ‘I have this object that I can bring in and it will help tell the story.’ And from hearing these stories over and over again, I thought, we should make a collection,” she said. 

Empowering youth to share their stories and determine the look and feel of the exhibit were key components of the project since its inception. 

 “I originally joined because I had seen many cases of organizations attempting to represent and support foster youth…and again and again I saw youth being sidelined, being spoken over, being patronized, and tokenized and left out of the very projects meant for them,” said Jess Prudent, a recent graduate of UCSC and Smith Renaissance Society Community Fellow. 

“As a proud and protective ‘Smithy’ I was ready to stop that before it even started…I am happy and relieved that I never felt the need to,” she said. “From day one foster youth were brought into the forefront of every idea, every art piece, and the setup of it.” 

Rooted in youth experience, the exhibit is also about taking action. 

 “We want to provide a very clear way to take action,” said MAH Director of Engagement, Stacey Garcia, to the Santa Cruz Sentinel. “It’s an amazing thing for someone to volunteer to take a big step like becoming a foster parent. But not everyone can take that kind of big step. There are a lot of little things that make a huge difference in the life of a foster youth. Making a birthday cake for a foster youth, donating some school supplies. The smaller things really add up to make a big impact. We try to make it as easy as possible for people to be active.” 

Jamie Lee Evans w/ Asm Mike StoneAssemblymember Mark Stone agrees. The author of AB 403, a bill that dramatically changed the foster care system in California, said, “through art, we can communicate much more effectively about what it is we’re trying to do and what it is we need to do.”  

“We can not do system change without [youth] voice,” Stone explains. “I look at the exhibit–that’s your voice. That is one of the most incredible ways to explain to decision makers what you’ve gone through. And I challenge anyone who’s had contact with this system to go look in the eyes of those pictures and go look at the words and not be moved.” 

 Thanks to a generous grant from National Endowment for the Arts and the California Arts Council, the exhibit will run from July 7 – December 31, 2017. To learn more visit



Press for the Exhibit: 

MAH steps into social activism with new exhibit on young people of foster care 

Santa Cruz Sentinel 

Foster Youth Exhibit Aims for Action 

Santa Cruz Waves 

Take action links:

Pop Up Museum with Smith Renaissance Society, California Youth Connection and the Foster Youth Museum

Back when C3 was still in the planning stages for the Lost Childhoods exhibition, our partners at Smith Renaissance Society were buzzing with action. They decided to host their own Pop Up Museum at the Annual Chancellor’s Reception at UC Santa Cruz to celebrate the academic feats of former Smith Renaissance Collegiate Fellows. Continue reading to see how it went.

*This post is also cross published on the Santa Cruz MAH’s Pop Up Museum blog, here.

Summary of Smith Renaissance Society, CYC and FYM’s Pop Up Museum
Written By: Smith Renaissance Society Collegiate Fellow, Lexie Tapke

Who: Smith Renaissance Society, California Youth Connection, and the Foster Youth Museum
When: April 30th, 2017
Where: Smith Renaissance Society’s Annual Chancellor’s Reception (De Anza Community Center, Santa Cruz, CA)
Organized by: Shawn Cervantes, President of Smith Society in collaboration with California Youth Connection and Foster Youth Museum

What it was all about:
At this year’s Chancellor’s Reception, an annual event hosted by the Smith Renaissance Society, a successful year was celebrated for this community. Honors were given to students, faculty, and volunteers of Smith that have either accomplished academic feats or have made Smith a more inclusive and worthy cross-generational community. Unique to this celebration, a Pop-Up exhibition was featured, consisting of a small scale foster youth exhibit and was hosted in partnership with California Youth Connection and the Foster Youth Museum.

How did it go?
The Pop-Up included personal artifacts brought in by several Smith Renaissance Society Collegiate Fellows, all former foster youth; these artifacts presented from their foster years represented hope or empowerment. Through these artifacts, the mini-exhibition provided a backdrop for donors to understand the importance of a foster child’s experience and how these memories live on through objects, artwork and other artifacts.

Guests including Chancellor George Blumenthal browsed the Pop-up museum again and again. One object stood out to the crowd and was later presented in-between awards. Mercedes Marson, a Smith alumna, brought her “Book of Life,” which was filled with photographs and mementos that kept her smiling through the system, offering her hope for a better future. Now, Mercedes is taking the same aspects of positivity and is currently training social workers to use these positivity methods with children in the foster system. She is also headed to Columbia University this fall where she will earn her Master of Social Work with a minor in Public Policy.

The Pop-Up museum, in conjunction with the Chancellor’s Reception, provided an opportunity for these former foster youths to share an intimate part of their foster experience with a larger population in a non-threatening way and draws awareness to the foster youth experience. Shawn Cervantes, President of the Smith Renaissance Society, says, “The exhibition provides a tangible way to help understand them. You can see, feel, and experience these stories from the youth themselves.”

Not only do non-foster youth individuals get a chance to step into the shoes of former foster youth, but this exhibition also breaks down stereotypical perceptions of what former foster youth and their experiences look like. “There is no cookie cutter way in which foster youth experience the system,” says Shawn. These artifacts physically show how each former foster youth developed into the individuals they are today and how these artifacts—pictures, artwork, toys and even sticky notes—helped them through the foster care system.

C3 2017 Meeting 5: Last Minute Touches

Summary of C3: Meeting 5, Tuesday May 9th, 6pm-8pm
Written By: C3 Intern, Karen Mestizo

At our last meeting, C3ers walked into the MAH bringing their positive vibes with them. Uproaring this energy, Miguel and Kate from California Youth Connection (CYC), did the honors of leading an icebreaker of Extreme Rock, Paper, Scissors. As pairs first started to battled each other for the win, those who won paired up and faced off against each other while their previous opponents became their cheerleaders. In the end, we all joined as one team to cheer on the last victor! After getting everyone excited and riled up, we headed off to the conference room to catch up on the process of the exhibition.

Once everyone was up to date, our lovely Community Engagement Director and Dialogue Catalyst, Stacey Garcia and Lauren Beneuta, introduced more ways members could get involved after this last C3 meeting. You can dive into taking on some of the listed opportunities here. This will include two internships, one which, after collecting feedback from C3 youth group, will include a Youth Program at the Museum.

Before jumping into the nights fun filled activities, artist, Bridget Henry, gave us a sneak peak of the animation process around the project of: bringing to life the experiences of transition age foster youth, while also sparking empathy. The mind blowing creativity and emotional effects of houses sketched out by youth were brought to life.  Soon after, we broke out into groups and got creative!

Advocates got imaginative in a collaborative workshop where they began event planning for the exhibition programs. Some common themes for events included film screenings, lightning talks, pop up museums, and having space to discuss pathways to ending youth homelessness.

Artist, Melody Overstreet, provided the chance for youth to write messages on strips of kitakata paper. It is a space for youth to write how they felt and a space that holds hope for the work and voices of youth. The papers will then be individually rolled up and woven into a larger tapestry, embedded between the layers of visible text.

Other last minute touches added to Artist Elliot Taylor’s piece, the Resiliency Zone, was youth art expression on rocks. The rocks are a metaphor for what resiliency can feel like. Over time, winds grind down the hard surfaces of rocks. Despite this, the solid mineral material holds up and in fact, the winds create a smoother texture. By having youth expression through these smaller art details, an authentic presence of youth will be projected.

In addition to the Resiliency Zone, journals will be added to create a space for visitors to reflect on the exhibitions heavy content. These will offer visitors a first hand experience of anonymous perspectives of youth feelings. C3ers decorated and wrote in journals in respect to their own experiences. Youth were also encouraged to take the composition books home to do some free journaling and return them by the members reception on July 6th. Some topics included:

  • What Resiliency Feels Like
  • My Story
  • After I Turn 18
  • Growing Up Fast

While this was our last meeting, the exhibition process is not over. There are more opportunities people can take advantage of in the link above. Despite this being our last time meeting as a whole group,  we wanted to thank everyone for their efforts and participation as we celebrated some savory cupcakes. Thank you C3ers!

C3 2017 Meeting 4: Making it Together

Summary of C3: Meeting 4, Tuesday April 11th, 6pm-8pm
Written By: MAH Dialogue Catalyst, Lauren Benetua

On Tuesday, 4/11, the MAH hosted it’s 4th and second to last C3 meeting. Even though this seems close to the end, it couldn’t have felt more like the beginning. As we kicked off our meeting with a general introduction of Lost Childhoods to newcomers, we got a special sneak preview of the exhibition layout. Seeing the floor plan and being able to visualize where everything was going to land was our first glance at the exhibition moving from concept to reality!

We then passed the mic to Foster Youth Museum (FYM) founder, Jamie Lee Evans. In just 10 minutes, we were taken on a riveting journey from former foster youths’ stories represented by a few of the objects in their collection. Each item in their collection was donated by a foster youth, and serves as an impactful and unbridled extension of their realities of growing up in today’s foster care system. This served as a more intimate introduction into FYM’s signature exhibition which has travelled under the name, Lost Childhoods. Because this exhibition is going to take on new life with Santa Cruz local youth and artists, it was decided that exhibition be more appropriately titled, Lost Childhoods: Voices of Santa Cruz County Foster Youth! More can be read about the history of FYM and Lost Childhoods in Jeanie Yoon’s post on our C3 blog.

Then, it was time to get down to the good stuff: prototyping the artist’s projects!

Scratchboards with Bridget Henry

Bridget Henry asked youth to help her create scratchboards made of images of various homes they lived in. Her work will use scenes and sounds of home life interspersed with animated metaphors from transition age foster youth about their experience. For this meeting, youth were encouraged to bring photos of places they have lived or have considered home to map onto their scratchboards. Once Bridget has enough from the youth, the animation process will begin!

Creating calm with Elliott Taylor

Elliott Taylor gave us an update on the resiliency zone that he has been hard at work developing with youth at each C3 meeting. Though this is still a work in progress, we were able to reach a consensus that building resiliency is by no means a linear path, and once achieved, one hardly ever stays in a mode of quiet and comfort and must go back through hardship through the next chapters of life. With this in mind, his 3-dimensional resiliency zone must also include an area of calm. For this meeting, Elliott asked youth to help him create a mural of sorts that will be divided into sections and artistically reinterpreted by the youth to be blown up to life size and stitched together in the physical installation.

Prototyping reminder bracelets with Melody Overstreet

 Melody Overstreet continues to source ideas that will empower visitors to take small actions. Along with this being represented in her weaving installation that will list reminders around the ‘little things’ that can make big impact, she asked youth to help prototype bracelets that will serve as reminders to visitors and wearers of their commitment to donate or lend a helping hand in some way. We asked youth and advocates alike to continue sharing their action items with us so we can effectively present it to the public, as well as brainstorm how visitors can easily make reminder-bracelets in the gallery as a takeaway.

Recording youth interviews with Nada Miljkovic

Nada Miljkovic has been added as a fourth artist to the exhibition, who will be conducting video interviews with transition age foster youth from Santa Cruz County! We decided this was a crucial element to the exhibition so that visitors will understand that this is a youth-driven project that welcomes and empowers foster youth. During this meeting, youth were given the space to opt-in to an interview and share their stories with their own voices. Nada will continue to conduct interviews at the next C3 meeting, so be sure to attend if you are a youth who would like to share your truth!


Identifying community engagement co-leads

Lastly, I had the pleasure of rounding the advocates into a huddle so we can select and prioritize community engagement plans and events-based experiences while the exhibition is open. The prior C3 meeting left me in a swirl of 100+ ideas on the table, which I was able to condense down to 8 overarching themes. With more of an understanding of these key interests, we were able to identify what else was missing, and most importantly, who would like to be a co-lead with me and the MAH to make it all happen. We identified what our engagement goals were and selected our top 3-5 ideas from each of the 8 larger themes. By the end of the night, we were left with about 15 events for us to all continually work on, together.

Buzzing from the rush of hands-on creativity of the night, we closed the meeting with a unity clap. Though we are nearing our last meeting for this year’s C3, each gathering leaves us feeling a little bit closer, truer, and warmer toward one another. We look forward to the next and last meeting on Tuesday, May 9th from 6-8pm at the MAH!

Lost Childhoods: What It’s All About?

Foster Youth Museum began over eleven years ago as a new training tool to help educate child welfare professionals on what the needs of foster youth were. Since then, the Museum has grown from a simple tabletop display of donated artifacts to a large scale endeavor with multiple exhibitions–our signature being Lost Childhoods.

Photo by Jeremiah McWright, Grace Cathedral 2015. Courtesy of Foster Youth Museum.

Lost Childhoods delves into the tremendous impact youth experience in and out of foster care and the title was meant to instantly convey the impact foster care can and does have. Visitors see what youth experience prior to entering the system, what happens during their time in care, and what happens when they emancipate or age out as teens and young adults. The exhibition, divided into five themes: Developmental Disruption, Institutionalization, Powerlessness, Loss, and Hope and Transformation, takes visitors through the experience from the perspective of foster youth.

Photo by Jeremiah McWright, Grace Cathedral 2015. Courtesy of Foster Youth Museum.

While it was important for us to represent the trauma, loss and disruption foster care and being removed from home can have on youth, it was just as important to us to show what has helped youth overcome these tragedies in their lives. The Hope and Transformation section is the largest of the five themes and the artifacts and photographs show how positive relationships, advocacy, education, travel and other opportunities have played vital roles in the stories of foster youth resiliency.

Photo by Jeremiah McWright, Grace Cathedral 2015. Courtesy of Foster Youth Museum.

Youth tell us that, to them, Foster Youth Museum, is a vessel for healing. We take this responsibility seriously and work hard to tell the story of foster care from a youth’s perspective, with dignity, respect and honor. This year, Foster Youth Museum is honored to be working with the Creative Community Committee (C3) to bring Lost Childhoods to the Santa Cruz MAH and excited for even more stories, particularly of Santa Cruz youth, to be shared with the community!


C3 2017 Meeting 3: A Balance in Brainstorm, Creation and Play!

Summary of C3: Meeting 3, Tuesday March 7th 6pm-8pm
Written by: C3 Intern, Karen Mestizo 

After bringing C3 members up to speed on the last two meetings, artists presented a recap of what their projects will capture and what conclusions have been made about the direction of the physical form (see bullet points below). We then encouraged everyone it would be best to split the group between advocates and former/current foster youth.

Former and current foster youth helped by providing their perspectives on their experiences to better help Bridget and Elliot understand what next steps to take for the projects around creating a visual and emotional experience for visitors. Advocates lent their knowledge on what “little things” would benefit foster youth at Melody’s table, as well as collaborated and brainstormed with Lauren, MAH’s new and eager Dialogue Catalyst, on how to extend the exhibition through community engagement activities. 

Here is an update on the artists projects:

Melody will be creating a project around the Little Things using thread and weaving techniques. Melody worked with the youth to explore what kinds of small actions make foster youth feel appreciated. She will be weaving in strips of papers that have writing on simple ways people can help foster youth. People will be able to grab the strips straight from the art piece. Melody was gracious enough to bring in a prototype of what the project of “The Little Things” could possibly resemble, although she imagines the installation will be a lot larger than in the picture. 

Prototype of Melody Overstreet’s weaving project

Elliott will be building a 3D project around resiliency, and though it is still unclear what the form will take and how the content will be projected, but he was hopeful that the meeting would help guide him to a clearer conclusion. Some questions Elliott asked at the meeting were, “what is resiliency?” and “how do you become resilient?”

Understanding resilience in Elliott Taylor’s project

Bridget introduced us to her artistic stop-motion skills and communicated that her project will take this form along with the content being represented as metaphors. Bridget created an extensive questionnaire that asked questions like, “if hope was an object what would it look like?”; “if your house(s) in foster care were found in nature, what would it be?”; “if the event that put you in foster care was a kind of weather or natural disaster what would it be?”…among many more! Former and current foster youth were free to answer any of the questions.

Video still from Bridget Henry’s stop-motion example

I once again I had the awesome opportunity to be in Bridgett’s workshop. When I began reading the questions, I hesitated to answer. Not because I didn’t want to, but rather because the questions took me back in time and required deep thinking of what my experience was like. As I looked around the table, I also noted my experience was shared as people gazed into the distance deep in their thoughts. Some shared that their experiences resembled a tsunami. The tidal waves were coming in slowly and quietly, but within an instance they were hit with waves drowning them all at once. The questions were a brilliant way of gathering true and delicate experiences for the project’s content around experiences of transition age foster youth through artful storytelling that will also spark empathy.

We ended the night in laughter with a closing activity that turned us into a musical train. Though we can reach deeply into shared personal experiences, it is also important to infuse some fun and play into the mix! Our silly musical beats wrapped up our night, and we can now look forward to our next gathering on Tuesday, April 11th. Click here for more photos of our night together.