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Sunday, May 9, 2021

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Cierra Bush was inspired to help foster youth during a Henrietta Goodwin Scholars seminar course last semester. Cierra Bush was inspired to help foster youth during a Henrietta Goodwin Scholars seminar course last semester.
 


Inspired to Give Back

Sophomore Cierra Bush worked with donors and businesses in L.A. to fill more than a hundred backpacks for foster youth and help them flourish in school.
By Aaron Burgin
 

“I think it is important to not only dedicate my work to children in my own neighborhood, but around the world.”

Cierra Bush transforms sneakers into works of art, splashing them with colors, animation and new life. 

But when Bush, a sophomore kinesiology major at San Diego State University, learned about the plight of foster youth during a Henrietta Goodwin Scholars seminar course last semester, she decided to use her passion for philanthropic use. 

Over the summer and with seed money from her shoe-customization business, “Cee My Kicks,” Bush donated over 100 backpacks filled with school supplies to Los Angeles-area foster youth. 

“I knew backpacks wouldn't resolve the problems within the foster care system, but I wanted to accomplish two goals,” Bush said. “First, I wanted to give the students some sort of ‘gift’ to show that they are thought about and to encourage them to continue their education and enjoy it too. All youth should be encouraged to go to school and finish school and be given the same resources and opportunities as their peers.

“Secondly, I wanted to do something to draw people's attention to these children and the cause,” Bush continued. “They deserve more love, more attention, more care and much more respect, so if I could get people to just help donate to a simple backpack drive I knew it would also bring more awareness to the foster care system in our country.”

Bush was inspired by a project she completed as part of her Henrietta Goodwin Scholars Program seminar class, in which she had to select a SDSU Black alumni member and write a report about them. 

She chose Cupcake Brown, a successful attorney who came from humble beginnings as a foster youth in San Diego and Los Angeles. 

Brown shared surprising statistics: Los Angeles is home to 30,000 foster youth, nearly 40% of the state’s total. 

“The numbers were shocking,” Bush said. “Growing up, my parents always encouraged my sister and I to get involved in community service and ‘be the change you want to see,’ so I decided this was something I really wanted to help with.”

Bush reached out to the Eagles Organization, a nonprofit dedicated to mentoring college students and high school graduates, and told them about her idea for a backpack drive. 

The Eagles Organization helped her with planning and coordinating, and Bush used the money she had been earning from her shoe business to get things started. 

As word rapidly spread, sponsors came to Bush’s aid. Businesses Omni2Max, Cutler Engineering and Technology Services, Insperity and Celebrity Entertainment signed on as sponsors. The Los Angeles Lakers Youth Foundation donated 300 items for the drive, including Lakers water bottles, pencil bags, lanyards, sweatbands, bandanas and drawstring bags. 

Bush also solicited donations from family and friends, and within three days she’d raised $1,000.

By July, Bush had raised enough money and supplies to fill 115 backpacks, donated to the Eggleston Family Services, which distributed them to their foster youth groups.

The kids’ reaction? Sheer joy. 

“To be honest with you, not only were there backpacks, they were filled with sports gear,” said Jamemika McLemore, a program manager with Eggleston. “So not only did they receive a nice, colorful brand new backpack, they were filled with items, and that took the excitement to another level.” 

“It means a lot to us and the kids, when they see someone as young as Cierra doing so much and taking time out during such a terrible time to give back and give back to youth who are sometimes unheard and not always the first to be thought of, it can provide them a positive role model,” McLemore said. 

Bush hasn’t stopped her philanthropic efforts with the backpack fundraiser. Currently, she is hosting a Cee My Kicks fundraiser, where 20% of her October earnings will benefit the nonprofit I Can Fly International, which raises awareness and assists young Kenyan girls in their plight against early marriages, genital mutilation, sexual abuse, child labor, tribal wars, illiteracy and extreme poverty. 

“I think it is important to not only dedicate my work to children in my own neighborhood, but around the world,” Bush said. “But I do plan to have another backpack and school supplies drive next summer, most likely in San Diego this year. I hope to be able to provide even more backpacks and supplies this upcoming year and continue to bring awareness towards the foster care system.”