Three years ago, Genessa Fisher dropped out of Bakersfield College as a matter of survival because she was homeless.
There were times when she had to decide whether to find a place in line for a homeless shelter or go to a class. She stopped attending classes to focus on her survival, she said.
Fisher, who grew up in the foster-care system for 13 years and said she experienced abuse, was homeless for a year until she found a housing program at the Dream Center of Kern County in Bakersfield. She said she took matters into her own hands and started to thrive. She eventually gained housing and went back to school.
Fisher, a peer support specialist at the Foster & Homeless Education Program for the Kern County Superintendent of Schools, shared her story in a new podcast, Youth Voice Amplified, that was released last month. She explained her story is her "why."
The podcast, which has an episode released on the first Wednesday of each month and can be found on most platforms, focuses on youth issues, such as homelessness. The podcast also features youth guests.
Fisher and Brian Johnson, also a peer support specialist at KCSOS who has experienced the foster system, are the hosts of the podcast.
An upcoming episode will feature a youth who deals with Type 1 diabetes.
“I didn’t want to be just a homeless youth,” Fisher said on the podcast episode. “I didn’t want to be a statistic, a stigma, a foster child who had failed.”
Fisher, 21, said she shares her story to help others. But she realized that when she spoke of her experiences she felt very vulnerable.
In addition to their introduction episode that dropped last month, the duo also released another episode that featured Melie, who shared her journey from homelessness to community advocacy.
Many of the youth who will be featured on the show sometimes choose not to give their name. The guests are also part of the editing process. Kimberly Silva, research associate for foster youth services at KCSOS, and Allyson Baptiste, a prevention specialist for the Foster & Homeless Education Program, are producers of the podcast and also provide support for the guests or “youth storytellers.”
Detailed information of the podcast and episode recordings can be found at kern.org/yva.
Johnson, 26, a Cal State Bakersfield sociology major, uses his past experiences to relate to children, also as a foster parent with his fiancee. His home has become a foster resource home, where more than 40 children have stayed in the past three years.
“The experiences that kids go through at that age, I just wanted to be able to help them navigate through that since I’ve been through it as well,” Johnson said. “I give the credit to my fiancee. At first I wasn’t really open to it because we’re so young. We’re really young. What do we have to help these kids? We can relate to them.”
Johnson and Fisher began work on the podcast this past summer when a grant was received for such projects, Johnson said. They also researched other youth-based podcasts and found that many of them did not include youth and involved politics.
They wanted their podcast to give youth a voice and to offer resources for help if needed.
Baptiste is the featured guest for March’s episode. She has been a mentor for Fisher.
“She’s one of my biggest reasons why I got into empowering youth,” Fisher said. “I didn’t feel very good about myself. Homelessness is not an experience that anybody wants to go through, being a youth and feeling very low about myself. She took the time to empower me and from there she just let me grow.”