L to R: Samantha Dominguez, First Place Youth Advocate; Leslio, First Place Participant; and Apolonia Cortez, First Place Education and Employment Specialist

L to R: Samantha Dominguez, First Place Youth Advocate; Leslio, First Place Participant; and Apolonia Cortez, First Place Education and Employment Specialist

If I hadn’t found First Place, I’m not sure where I would be today,” says Leslio, a First Place participant in Santa Clara County. “But I’m sure I wouldn’t be living the life I want.” Leslio spent his early years in the Netherlands with his mother. When complications arose, Leslio moved to the United States and his sister assumed the role of his guardian, but eventually he entered foster care during his senior year of high school.

“I don’t like talking about it,” he says, “because I had absolutely no control over my life. Sometimes things don’t end up how you hope they will, and I had to find that out the hard way.”

By the time he entered foster care, Leslio had already started thinking about college, making plans to study computer science at Gavilan College in Gilroy. But being in foster care made those plans more complicated, especially as he approached his 18th birthday and had to figure out how he could afford to live on his own.

Leslio was referred to First Place, and he was excited to learn that we could provide him with housing and support that would let him enroll in college as planned. Leslio moved into his First Place apartment in the summer of 2017, and still remembers how he felt on the day he got his keys.

“It was incredible!” he says, “I finally had a place I could call my own. I didn’t have to worry about a place to spend the night.”

Still, Leslio found it difficult to focus on school at first. He struggled with time management and was, in his own words, “too relaxed.” His grades suffered. With the help of his First Place team, Samantha and Apolonia, Leslio began working to improve his time management. His efforts paid off, and he went from failing grades to A’s and B’s.

He was also was accepted into the job training and internship program offered by Year Up, through which he completed a six-month paid internship at ebay. Currently, through our partnership with TalentPath, Leslio is working to complete a coding certification that will potentially allow him to obtain full-time employment with Chegg, an ed-tech company headquartered in San Jose.

With his education on track and his career getting started, Leslio and his First Place team are focusing on his financial literacy and money management.

“The biggest thing we’re working on right now is budgeting,” Leslio explains. “I’ve had problems with that, but I’m learning how to save my money and think about the future.”

And when it comes to what motivates him, Leslio says that it’s all about the future. While Leslio has over a year of eligibility left with First Place, he’s already preparing for what comes next. “I want to be able to live on my own,” he says. “I’ve been doing research about buying my own car and looking for apartments.”

For other young people who are questioning whether joining First Place is right for them, Leslio encourages them to embrace the support that First Place offers to help them focus on the long term. “First Place has given me the opportunity to be independent, to make my own decisions and choices. That’s what makes it so special.”