Books: A Look at Youth "Aging Out" of Foster Care

By David Schonauer   Monday July 27, 2015

Young people in foster care face daunting challenges as they grow up.

More than 4,000 people age out of foster care in California each year, making the transition from to adulthood on their own, without the support of a parent or other adult. Within two to four years, 25 percent of these young people will be homeless, more than half unemployed, and as many as 20 percent will be in prison.

Those are the disheartening numbers cited in the introduction of a new book called Aging Out, a documentary photo project looking at the lives of 11 young people who have recently or are in the process of aging out of the foster-care system in Southern California. It comes from a group of Southern California commercial and editorial photographers who call themselves the Image Hoarders and represents a unique collaborative creative effort that also raises awareness about a particularly vulnerable segment of society.

The Image Hoarder group was started two years ago by LA-based photographer Coral von Zumwalt, who invited six fellow photographers — Yuri Hasegawa, Matt Hoover, Aaron Fallon, Joan Allen, Matt Harbicht, and Megan Miller — to join together in a creative support group. “It allowed us to share ideas and get feedback about personal projects we were working on or thinking about working on,” says Allen, a portrait and lifestyle photographer.

Around the same time, Fallon, a commercial and editorial photographer, suggested that the group work together on a documentary project on children in foster care. “Around 2008, I saw an article about a photographer who was photographing young adults that were living in group homes or were about to age out of their foster care programs. At the time I didn’t even know what it meant to age out of the system, so I read a bit more about it and something resonated with me,” Fallon says. “I tried to see myself in that same position, being at those critical ages — 18 to 23 — without any guidance, family support, and without having a safety net of some sort. The idea seemed overwhelming and scary.  And I thought I could do something similar here in Los Angeles with a project to try and help those young

                        La’Shanda Holmes on the book's cover and above, by Joan Allen

               Ernesto Yanes-Arnold, by Aaron Fallon

                               Jasmine Torres, by Matt Harbicht

                  Chardea, by Aaron Fallon

Several years later, Fallon was in a meeting with Maggie Soladay, former photo editor of American Lawyer, when the idea of doing a book about the foster-care system came up. “Maggie had produced a similar project and book in New York, and she encouraged and advised me on how to get one going in L.A,” Fallon says.

Soon after he brought up the idea to the Image Hoarders, Allen happened to be talking with a friend who was involved with a non-profit organization called the Alliance for Children’s Rights, which offers legal services and other support for neglected children. It was through that organization that the photographers were introduced to all the subjects in the book.

Among them are Jasmine Torres, 21, who graduated from the University of Southern California in 2014; Ernesto Yanes-Arnold, who survived a difficult childhood and became a youth advocate; Chardea, who was placed in foster care at age six months; and La’Shanda Holmes, who became one of the first African American helicopter pilots in the Coast Guard and was recently accepted into the White House Fellowship Program.

“It was very gratifying to work on this kind project, which was so different from what I usually do,” says Allen. who photographed Holmes. “I’ve always been interested in reportage and documentary, but haven’t really had a chance to do much.”

Also involved with the project were writers Deborah A. Lott, Laura Golden Bellotti, Justine Ferrara, Margaret Stine, Nate von Zumwalt, Chera Patrice Tribble, Harrison James and Alyssa Roenigk.

The book debuts at a special event on July 30 at Quixote Studios in West Hollywood. All profits from the sale of the book go to organizations support foster children and young adults, including The RightWay Foundation  and the Alliance for Children’s Rights.  Go here  for information on buying it.

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