Two Berkeley High Students Search for a New Home By ANNIE KASSOF Special to the Planet

Tuesday January 17, 2006

Berkeley High students Robert Coil, a senior, and Alexis Hooper, a junior, are two of the most gracious teens you could hope to meet. They have ambition, good manners, and guts—the kind of kids who would make their parents proud, if only their parents were around. 

Because of their families’ problems, the two have been living in a group home in Berkeley, one of several operating in the Bay Area under the auspices of the Fred Finch Youth Center. On Jan. 10 they were notified that they will have to leave by the end of the month, and they have no idea where they’ll go. 

The Fred Finch Youth House administration is converting the home into a facility for young adults 18-24 years old, including those recently emancipated from the foster care system. According to Robert and Alexis, the group home isn’t making enough money on its younger residents, and state law prohibits youth under 18 from living in group homes where adults also reside. Currently the home’s only other resident is an Oakland Tech student who has already turned 18. 

“We’ve got each other’s backs,” says Robert, a year-long resident of the South Berkeley home, who met Alexis when she moved in about six months ago. The pair—he’s slender and soft-spoken with gentle brown eyes, and she has close-cropped black hair and a confident demeanor—call each other “brother” and “sister.” Their bond is evident from the moment they start talking. They finish each other’s sentences or playfully tease each other.  

“I grew up a lot faster than I was supposed to,” says Alexis. 

Alexis had been kicked out of her single mother’s home “many times,” ultimately for good, over disagreements about Alexis’ sexuality among other issues. She wound up homeless for two months yet managed to get herself to school at Skyline High in Oakland, maintaining a 4.0 grade point average despite her dyslexia, before moving to Berkeley. 

Alexis is interested in “the science of the brain.” With the same certainty and confidence as someone who’s always had a loving home and a roof over her head, she says specifically she’d like to be an “FBI profiler” and “study the brains of serial killers.” She had taken anger management classes, and by the time a spot opened for her at the Fred Finch Youth House she was on a direct path toward self-acceptance, graduation (from BHS, she hopes), a four-year-college, and police academy. 

Robert, who talks with a slight speech impediment, has no doubt that he wants to be a firefighter and an EMT. He was adopted when he was 1, but his adoptive mother and later his stepmother both died. His adoptive father, who lives in Grass Valley, is unable to continue raising him. Besides earning good grades, Robert has a part-time job teaching arts and crafts to fifth- and sixth-graders at Berkeley Arts Magnet school. He has already ordered his graduation gown, but now he wonders whether he’ll be able to remain at BHS to wear it. 

Robert and Alexis both desperately hope to stay at Berkeley High, and they want to continue living together. Against all odds, Alexis and Robert have been thriving, due in part to the stability they’ve found living at the Fred Finch Youth House, but also because of the support they give each other. A sympathetic staff is apparently powerless to arrange for Alexis and Robert to remain together in the house that has become their home. 

The two feel that, as displaced youth, they have few advocates outside the Fred Finch Youth Services organization to help with their transition. A mental health therapist who has worked with them only since November has also been unable to find an option in the East Bay for either one, and cannot provide any assurance that either will be able to continue at the school where they’ve both found a niche. 

As of press time, calls to the Fred Finch Youth House administration concerning this issue had not been returned.