The Power of Policy Change

By Giving List Staff   |   October 5, 2021

What if you could invest in an organization that, with an annual budget of $2 million, has produced $3.3 billion in new support for California’s most vulnerable youth over the past 17 years? 

John Burton Advocates for Youth – or JBAY for short – is it.

Founded in 2004 by John Burton, a former state assemblyman, state senator and congressman from San Francisco, JBAY is laser-focused on policy, evaluation, and research in service of supporting California’s foster and homeless youth. Based in San Francisco, JBAY has been the driving force behind countless state bills and public partnerships that have helped foster youth gain safe housing, food security and access to post-secondary education. With statistics showing that foster youth are much more likely than their peers to struggle during the fitful transition into adulthood, JBAY-linked programs have been a lifeline for many thousands of young people.

Just ask Luz Hernandez. In an interview, Hernandez says that she was brought to San Francisco by her father when she was 14, forced to work 12-hour days in a laundry and bakery while her father pocketed the money. While still a minor, her father went back to Central America, leaving her homeless in a public park with no money. 

Luz was fiercely determined, dreaming of the chance to attend college. And JBAY was there, supporting her as a Guardian Scholar at San Francisco City College; getting her textbooks through the Burton Book Fund; and perhaps most importantly, finding her stable housing so she could turn her attention to school.

“When I started at City College I was living in a garage, under terrible conditions, and working two jobs even to make that happen,” Luz says. But getting secure housing “changed everything. Simply having a roof over my head meant I could pass my classes without having to constantly worry about becoming homeless again.”

Luz eventually graduated with honors from SF State, and was admitted into the Master in Social Work program at U.C. Berkeley. She is currently a housing case manager for homeless youth in San Francisco, using the webinars and other resources that JBAY created to reach homeless foster youth like herself.

Amy Lemley, JBAY’s executive director, is immensely proud of Hernandez. “So many of our foster or homeless youth have a strong drive to succeed, and I feel we have the responsibility to meet them halfway,” Lemley says. 

And how should society do that? “I’ve always believed in the transformative power of government,” Lemley explains. “This isn’t the time to be ambivalent about the power of the public sector.”

Through 2022, JBAY will push hard to extend state support of foster and/or homeless youth in college, advocating for policies and rules that don’t disadvantage young people who have already suffered so much. 

“When we as a society put these supportive policies in place, foster youth can make great things happen.”


John Burton Advocates for Youth

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(415) 348-0011
Executive Director: Amy Lemley


John Burton Advocates for Youth improves the quality of life for youth in California who have been in foster care or homeless by advocating for better laws, training communities to strengthen local practices and conducting research to inform policy solutions.

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We know you care about where your money goes and how it is used. Connect with this organization’s leadership in order to begin to build this important relationship. Your email will be sent directly to this organization’s Director of Development and/or Executive Director.

When I was 17, I’d been sleeping at a park for several months and my social worker came to see me. She told me about a new program called SILP. It sounded too good to be true. I cried when I got it. This option gives young people like me a sense of hope and trust in the system again. It has meant being able to hold my own and still be supported.
Jenny Bulanadi, Former foster youth

Be the Safety Net for Foster and Homeless Youth

Foster youth often lack a safety net of people to call on when they need help, so when unexpected costs occur, they can have life-altering consequences: losing a job, dropping out of school, or homelessness. 

“Even though we’re changing state laws and regulations for the long term, we know young people need help today,” says Amy Lemley, JBAY’s executive director.

The Burton Critical Needs and Opportunity Fund is designed to provide that safety net, with funds going directly into the hands of young people when they need it most. JBAY is raising $250,000 this year, and with a $1-for-$1 match, donors can double their impact on helping 1,600 young people with basic necessities like school supplies, transportation, medical bills, and groceries. 

Key Supporters

Art Carter
Ash Bhatt
Bluebird Legacy
Catherine Cope MacMillan
College Futures Foundation
Conrad N. Hilton Foundation
Corinne Landphere
Crankstart Foundation
George and Judy Marcus
Help for Children
John and Mary Pat Kagel
Kimiko Burton
Michelle Jourdak
Pinpoint Foundation
Pritzker Foster Care Initiative
Silicon Valley
Community Foundation
Sisters of St. Joseph
Healthcare Foundation
Stuart Foundation
Stupski Foundation
The California
Wellness Foundation
Tipping Point Community
United Way California
Walter S. Johnson Foundation