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Sara Razavi, Project Associate

Sara Razavi and Honoring Emancipated Youth

What if kids turning 18 were consistently and systematically being kicked out of the only home they have? For children in foster care, this is often a reality: they get forced into the world with no support system and little training, and end up becoming homeless half the time. It’s something Honoring Emancipated Youth (HEY) and Sara Razavi, 26, won’t stand for. Since 2001, this California-based non-profit has helped to coordinate services and aid with strategic partnerships, providing things like health care and employment opportunities for emancipated youth. They’ve even co-sponsored a bill to ensure that these youth get supportive housing. HEY’s unique approach – matching pre-existing programs to best fit needs instead of reinventing the wheel – has created a chain of successes that have gained the organization much respect and credibility. Find out more in this week’s Non-Profit Spotlight.


Honoring Emancipated Youth – HEY


January 2001




Sara Razavi, Program Associate, 26


Born in Tehran, Iran; moved to Pakistan and numerous countries while waiting for American visa till moving to Orange County, CA where my family’s been since I was 10.

Current residence

San Francisco, California


BA Sociology with Minor in Theatre Arts, UC Davis, 2001

Past Experience

AmeriCorps VISTA at “I Have a Dream Foundation” – Parent and Youth Development Coordinator; The Friendly Center Family Resource Center – Education Programs Coordinator; youth theatre instructor at various Bay Area non profits



About the Non-profit

Honoring Emancipated Youth (HEY) is a collaborative of current and former foster youth, public, private, and nonprofit agencies in the Bay Area working together to improve the opportunities for youth leaving the foster care system. At age 18, youth emancipating, or aging out of the foster care system, often do not have sufficient support services to successfully transition to adulthood. Our organization goal is that all youth exiting the foster care system have access to a regional continuum of support services which enable them to become successful, self-sufficient adults.

When we first started in 2001, our work was mainly focused on advocating for the housing needs of foster youth – in fact we were originally called Housing for Emancipated Youth – since then we’ve grown to include education, health, employment AND housing. This is how we do our work:

  1. We advocate for the needs of current and former foster youth at the local (San Francisco), regional (Bay Area), and state (CA) level
  2. We increase the awareness of the issues facing emancipated youth among general public (including governing bodies) as well as service providers to impact funding and resource allocation
  3. We mobilize our partners to promote public policies that will result in effective, long-term opportunities and support services for former foster youth
Most importantly we are doing all of this in partnership with youth, through our Youth Advocacy Board, so that our policy direction comes directly from the people who have experienced and continue to experience the foster care system.

Most notable milestones

HEY has produced many meaningful results in the last 5 years and much of the credit is due to our organization’s strong collaborative relationships with community partners and to the dedication of our team – specifically our Director, Michele Byrnes. She is truly a great inspiration. Over the years HEY’s success can be best measured by our reputation in the foster care community as an effective and neutral partner who produces credible and measurable work. Some of our most recent tangible successes include:

  • Housing: we co-sponsored SB 1576 (THP+ Campaign. This bill makes sure foster youth have access to supportive housing after they emancipate. The bill recently received state funding and is beginning to get implemented!
  • Education: we supported the growth of the Guardian Scholars and Guardian scholars-like programs at San Francisco State University, Heald College, and currently UC Berkeley. These programs provide support services, such as priority housing, priority registration and financial aid, for foster youth on college campuses. Health: we successfully advocated for foster youth to have access to health care through the age of 24 through the “Healthy Kids and Young Adults” city initiative.
  • Employment: we collaborated with our community partners and hosted an Annual Job Shadow Day where community partners host current and former San Francisco foster youth for a day and show them what it takes to become a professional.
  • Youth development and voice: We established the Emancipated Youth Advocacy Board (EYAB) providing former foster youth an opportunity to advocate for themselves. Over the last year this group advocated and developed the Emancipation Binder which includes a number of resources for youth exiting the San Francisco foster care system.

What’s the niche?

We are not a direct service provider. Instead as a collaborative we leverage the support of our partners and advocate, convene, and support the implementation of programs that work. We are not funded for a specific measure rather our goal is to advocate for the services that most effectively support former foster youth. I think this model is what makes us unique. My hope is that more community organizations adapt or begin to work more closely to this model. Too often new programs are created which overlap with pre-existing ones, resulting in a further dilution (or in the case of San Francisco, over saturation) of resources and information. I think that often the best foot forward is to identify where existing programs can collaborate so that we can better utilize resources and information and become more effective.

What’s the biggest challenge?

The system is large and many youth age out, without the necessary resources to be successful. It’s hard to believe that these youth are left to their own devices, often with limited education, no housing, and no long-term goals. I can’t imagine that for my own family, why should I accept it for anyone else’s? Our challenge at HEY is to make sure this population is supported through each fiscal year and that there continues to be funding and programs designated for this at-risk, but equally as promising population.

What’s in store for the future?

The national statistics of what happens to foster youth while in care, and especially after emancipation, are harsh: 50% become homeless within the first two years; 60% live below the poverty line for years after their emancipation; and more. Unfortunately, with high cost of living in San Francisco, our local numbers are often even higher. But even though the statistics are staggering the numbers are manageable. California is home to a 1/3 of the nations foster youth with close to 80,000 in care, but in San Francisco, that’s 150-200 youth aging out each year. The numbers feel big at first but when compared to larger epidemics it’s manageable. We can make a difference and time and time again statistics show the success of youth who are given the supports and opportunities. It’s a simple formula and one we can work together to complete. For our part, HEY will continue to promote effective models and support programs that work.

Who would you like to be contacted by?

Like all nonprofits we survive from the support and funding of donors. Naturally I’d want them to contact me. I would also like youth and adults alike who have experienced any out of home care to contact us if they need references for support services or if they feel they can help in our efforts to advocate for the needs of foster youth.

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Guiding principle in life

My grandfather would say, “Good thoughts, good words, good deeds.” He’s following a doctrine and it has been my mother who’s shown me how to live that. Be honest, give respect to all, and expect the same from others. So far theory and practice have both served me well.

Yardstick of success

Metric or Imperial? Guess it doesn’t matter, I work better with lists. For me, success is when I’ve completed my to-do list.

Goal yet to be achieved

To fully integrate my theatre work and experience with my nonprofit work.

Best practical advice

Make lists. Depending on your list you can really accomplish a lot.

Supportive words from a family member or friend on your venture

“So what are you up to?”


Hard call, there are so many places we learn from, but I think usually it all comes back to my mom.

What motivated you to get started?

I came out of college knowing I wanted to support art programs for youth. I ended up teaching theatre to underrepresented communities – migrant and immigrant families. And from there I just kept moving from one youth program to another. I hope one day my worlds will merge a little closer and I can do theatre and arts education advocacy for youth. For now, I’m really happy and feel like it’s just the beginning.

What keeps you motivated?

I’m not sure, but something certainly does. I think I’ve just never really considered not being motivated. Oh wait, wait, yes…I have lost motivation before. When I first graduated from college I was sitting around without any job prospects watching a week-long Quantum Leap marathon. I was in my family’s house and thought, “I could do this for the rest of my life and that’d be just fine. I had food, shelter, love; I didn’t really need anything else.” But that night, by chance and on a whim, I went to a community meeting for a tutoring program. Within a week I interviewed for the job and was the theatre instructor for the organization. I worked with kids who’d never performed before and some who barely spoke any English. And I’ve been going since. That’s what motivates me, knowing that every turn in life is a learning opportunity and that so long as I keep going, I’ll keep learning.

Like best about what you do

Collaborating – that speaks to my personal philosophy of community learning. It’s nice to know I’m not doing this alone or reinventing the wheel. Instead I’m taking what is working and applying it and sharing it with my community so that more people can live better.

Like least about what you do

The administrative part! I can do without the mailings, database, e-mails…but its all part of the work.

At age 10, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I think I wanted to be a radio jockey or some sort of announcer. Something where I could talk all day. Well I didn’t become a disc jockey but an advocate…the way I see it that’s really not that far from.

Biggest pastime outside of work

Theatre, theatre, theatre! Check out the theatre company a couple of my friends and I started. www.elasticfuture.com.

Person most interested in meeting

Whomever is in my calendar that day – friends, colleagues, family.

Leader in business most interested in meeting

I think this is a really curious question. Why not “leader in performance art”, or “Muppet you’d most like to meet”? Leader in business…I’ll have to think about that, the other’s I’d have a ready answer for.

Three interesting facts about yourself

I’m a twin, I speak three languages (but that’s about 4 less than my mom’s family), and I always wished for a genie when I was little.

Three characteristics that describe you

Honest, direct, and grounded

Three greatest passions

My commitments; my family and friends; my theatre

Favorite book

Whatever I happen to read all the way through. I often stop reading books if they can’t keep my interest. The last book that kept me up all night – The Kite Runner, before that Let Me Tell You Where I’ve Been: New Writing by Women of the Iranian Diaspora.

Favorite cause

Education and empowerment programs that work with disempowered communities

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Interview by Ani Zakarian
Introduction by Kaiser Shahid

Also this week

Sombat BoonngamanongEditha RosarioDanial M. Noorani

Don’t forget!

Young & Professional Profile | News2Know

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