Stories and Articles

Rough Start Doesn’t Deter Former Foster Youth from a Bright Future

Yosef Richarson MainLife dealt Yosef Richardson a rough hand. But with hard work and sheer determination, he has endured and excelled. 

Richardson went from being confined to an Ethiopian orphanage to a confident young man about to embark on his junior year as a business student at San Diego State University.

From African Orphanage to America

Richardson’s story starts 20 years ago in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. “My mother passed away when I was two years old and my father passed away when I was eight,” Richardson recalled. “After their deaths, I was placed in an orphanage in Addis Ababa.”

When he was 10, Yosef thought he caught a break when a family in Watsonville, California adopted him, along with two other children, and brought them to the United States. He came to the U.S. not knowing any English, but was determined to make the best of his new life.

“My greatest strength in life is my willingness to keep working hard,” said Richardson. “When I first arrived in the United States, I didn’t speak English and I knew I was going to have to work ten times harder than my classmates. I failed a lot of tests that first year in the fifth-grade, but I was well-rounded the next year in the sixth-grade and continued to work hard to get into the seventh-grade.”

It was during the seventh-grade that life changed drastically for Richardson and his siblings.

My greatest strength in life is my willingness to keep working hard.

Life in Foster Care

“Upon arriving in the U.S., our adoptive parents took advantage of us by having us work after school and often times, they didn’t feed us,” recalled Richardson. “After living with them for two years, my adoptive father became violent and that’s when Child Protective Services put us into the foster care system.”

While foster care wasn’t an ideal life for Richardson, he kept his situation in perspective and vowed to learn and grow with each challenge. As foster youth, he and his brother and sister stayed with four different families and bonded with each other during the process. “In some ways, moving helped me grow as a man and I learned different things from each family,” said Richardson. “Although we would have preferred to stay with one family, my siblings and I supported each other with each move and we’ve become very close.”

While there were many challenges facing him, there were some opportunities presented to Richardson along the way as well. His court-appointed special advocate was the late Bob McCabe who inspired him to continue to improve and do well in school. He was also able to find some stability in his life when he was able to attend Santa Cruz High School for all four years and he evolved into an outstanding student and a star soccer player.

In some ways, moving helped me grow as a man and I learned different things from each family.

On to SDSU

During his freshman year at Santa Cruz High, Richardson set a goal of attending college. As he was researching which school he wanted to attend, he learned about the Guardian Scholars program at San Diego State.

Richardson was impressed by the Guardian Scholars’ support offered to academically qualified students who were in the process of exiting the foster care system. Assistance through the program can be in the form of scholarships, health services, housing and academic assistance. He was also impressed by the high rate of graduation among Guardian Scholars students, prompting him to apply to SDSU.

Today, Richardson has just finished his sophomore year at SDSU’s College of Business Administration and works as a support tech for Apple. He plans to move into his junior year as a management major which he said he chose because it will prepare him for his ultimate goal of owning his own business.

I didn’t grow up with the idea of attending college, so being at SDSU makes me appreciate life and motivates me to keep working hard.

But being an entrepreneur isn’t all Richardson has in store for his future: “I want to give back to society for helping me to overcome so many different challenges in my life by establishing a foundation that helps Ethiopian students by providing them with necessary resources,” he said. “I also want to adopt a child from that region because I feel that I can understand where they’re coming from.”

At SDSU he has found the stability and support necessary to move ahead with his goals. “I didn’t grow up with the idea of attending college, so being at SDSU makes me appreciate life and motivates me to keep working hard,” said Richardson. “Foster care was rough, my adoption was terrifying and school was difficult for me, but I knew if I worked hard, I can achieve anything in life.”

“I know my father and mother would have been proud of me.”