Youth advocate John Burton celebrates his birthday at SF State

One of California’s most notable advocates for foster youth will celebrate his birthday at SF State Friday, and San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee is invited.  But rather than champagne schmoozing and thousand dollar fundraiser seats, laptop scholarships and backpack giveaways will be the main focus at this party.

The man of the hour is John Burton, who has an extensive history in politics.  Having begun his career as a deputy attorney general in 1964, Burton was elected to Congress 10 years later, and after working for both the State Assembly and Senate, he retired in 1998 as President Pro Tempore.

Even before his time spent in the government sector, Burton has been an adamant champion of foster and former foster youth in their pursuit of higher education, having contributed 40 years of public service toward the cause.

The most prominent manifestation of his labor is the John Burton Foundation for Children Without Homes, which he established in 2004 and currently heads as a volunteer chair.  As outlined in the mission statement, the foundation is “dedicated to improving the quality of life for California’s homeless children and developing policy solutions to prevent homelessness.”

One such policy is AB12, the passing of which was strongly backed by Burton.  Signed by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2010, AB12 extends the age that foster youth can receive subsidized care to 21 from its former 18, according to California Fostering Connections.

“John really spearheaded that issue in Congress,” said Miles Cooley, an attorney who serves on the Advisory Board of Directors to the foundation and was himself a foster child.  Calling himself a “lifelong fan of John Burton,” Cooley said that Burton was the “single most important personality in the fight.”

Another significant product of the John Burton Foundation has a home at SF State: the Guardian Scholars Program, which was borne out of a partnership with California College Pathways.  Aimed at increasing the number of foster youth in California entering universities, the  Guardian Scholars Program provides qualified students with a number of resources to guide them through their post-secondary education.

Jewel Boone is one such student.  The 20-year-old Communication Studies major is a Guardian Scholar, and as she prepares to graduate at the end of this semester, she reflects on the impact of the program on her education.

“I can easily say that I would have had a lot of trouble coming to State (without the program),” Boone said.  “It provided me with year-round housing and an academic and emotional support system, which helped me focus on school.”

Boone has earned a spot on the Dean’s List for three semesters out of her four spent at SF State, and will attend Burton’s birthday celebration, which begins at 11:30 a.m. in the Seven Hills Conference Center.

The party will also honor the recipients of the Burton Scholar’s Backpack to Success Program, which has partnered with VISA to provide former foster youth an opportunity to win laptops by writing an essay explaining what they would do if they won $10,000.

Selina Sun, who works for Mayor Ed Lee’s office of communication, confirmed his appearance at the event.

“There’s not a lot of guys like him in politics anymore,” Cooley said of Burton.  “He’s my hero.”