LUBBOCK, TX (KCBD) - Buckner Children and Family Services honored some special graduates on Tuesday.
Tuesday was a special celebration for some teenagers here in Lubbock who are a part of Buckner Children and Family Services "Fostering Youth Independence" program, otherwise known as FYI.
Twenty foster teens from that program just graduated from high school or received a GED, and their hard work was recognized at the Hope Chest Celebration.
This graduation party started with some fun activities at the Body Works on 4th Street, followed by a pizza party and then a shopping trip where each teen got the chance to purchase essential items for their first dorm room or apartment.
Each teen received a certificate of congratulations from Governor Greg Abbott as well.
"It says greetings to Cameo Belez. Congratulations on your 2017 graduation from high school," 17-year-old Cameo Belez said.
This certificate from Governor Abbott is a special keepsake for Belez.
Not only did she graduate from Coronado High School a year early, she overcame many roadblocks to achieve this, starting last summer.
"My mother, she called CPS telling them I was a runaway, and when that happened you know it was at a time, at a point in my life that was not very good. I was living in the street...I would live in a park, Maxey Park, here in Lubbock. And every once in a while, I would get money so I could go eat like McDonalds or something and that was only if someone was nice and was willing to give," Belez said.
She says she wouldn't be where she is today if it wasn't for crossing paths with Buckner in late 2016 and being placed with a foster family.
"I thank God that my foster parents woke up that late and were like, 'we will take her in.' And ever since, they have been my parents, they have been my guardians. They have guided me through so much and I am so thankful," Belez said.
Belez took part in the Fostering Youth Independence Program, a way to help teens who are about to age out of the foster care system, which happens at age 18.
"When they are going through the foster care system we work with them in PAL classes at 15, trying to get them ready to age out. And so the PAL classes are life skills classes where they are learning anything that has to do with life in general. Like budgeting, how to find an apartment, what it's like to have an apartment of your own, and what that comes with," program supervisor Meagan Daniels said.
The FYI program also helps these teens find a job so they can eventually support themselves financially as they aim to prevent homelessness once the teens age out.
"That's a big reason why we focus so much on jobs and helping them learn to keep a job and how to get along with your boss," Daniels said.
Belez now has a job of her own, and has big aspirations for her future.
"My dream is to join the US military. I was looking into the Navy branch," she said.
She has also applied to Texas Tech and South Plains College.
Which brings us back to today's event, a celebration of the accomplishments of 20 foster teens in the FYI program who have graduated despite the tough times they have gone through.
Belez says Buckner has pushed her in a positive direction for a successful life, and it's a place she can come back to no matter what happens.
"They help a child grow. They help them with anything and everything that they need in their life that is necessary. And I couldn't pick, I couldn't picture living in any other foster home other than Buckner," Belez said.
"It's exciting to see a youth so motivated and ready to go and ready to you know just find her passion and do something great with her life, and I think she will. Definitely," Daniels said.