Program Aims to Foster Adult Successes
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
SATs, college applications and financial aid forms are the stuff of dinner table discussions in many homes. But for half a million foster kids, who don't have parents to push them, college can seem like a remote possibility, at best.
Studies show that their futures are more likely to hold homelessness, teen pregnancy and trouble with the law than a college degree. Now a scholarship program in Orange County, California, seeks to change that, by playing the role of supportive parent during the college years.
Robin Urevich reports.
ROBIN UREVICH reporting:
At the University of California Irvine's commencement ceremony, a sea of graduates blanket the sports arena floor, each of them waiting for their name to be called.
Unidentified Woman: Andrea Kamia Gordon(ph).
UREVICH: Twenty-four-year old Andrea Gordon, an English major, strides across the stage, flashes a smile and pauses for a handshake and photo. It's been a tough road to this point.
Ms. ANDREA GORDON (University of California Irvine Graduate): I was 13-years-old when I was put into the foster system. Geez, yeah, 13.
UREVICH: Andrea was sexually abused at home and child welfare officials placed her in a children's home. By the time she was 16, she was with a foster family and she wasn't even considering college.
Ms. GORDON: I was just happy to still be in high school, I thought that was going to be like the accomplishment of my life.
UREVICH: But her high school English teacher convinced her to apply to UC Irvine. She got in and won a guardian scholarship. These scholarships are awarded to foster youth at 13 California colleges and at Ball State University in Indiana.
Students get money for school. They get year round housing, because most don't have homes to go to on school breaks. They also get a sort of surrogate parent. Gene Howard is CEO of the Orangewood Children's Foundation, the nonprofit that started the program.
Mr. GENE HOWARD (Orangewood Children's Foundation): The key piece of support is having an individual on campus who has responsibility for the students that are there. This is the individual that they can go to when issues come up. This is the individual who watches over them and makes sure that they're doing well in their classes, that they get into the dormitories.
UREVICH: For Andrea, that person was Joe Myesta(ph), who runs the program at UC Irvine. At first Andrea resisted asking for his help, even though she needed it. In her sophomore year, the pressure of school, work, family and personal problems got to be too much. She got sick, her grades plummeted and she decided to drop out of school temporarily. Joe Myesta picks up this story.
Mr. JOE MYESTA (Orangewood Children's Foundation): She was working at one of the eateries in Fashion Island and I would, on a monthly basis, go and have lunch, just so I could keep tabs on her, you know.
Ms. GORDON: He was always making sure he knew where I was.
Mr. MYESTA: And just make sure that she knew that she had a home to come back to and there were people here who really cared about her and wanted her to succeed.
UREVICH: This continued for three years until Andrea finally decided she was never going back to school. She thought that was the end of it. But then came a barrage of phone calls from Joe and others in the program. It changed her mind.
Ms. GORDON: The work that they did while I wasn't a student at UCI, while I wasn't a Guardian Scholar, that is probably the most impressive thing to me. People had more expectations of me than I had of myself. And - which is why, I think, they continued looking for me to finish school. And they told me to stop doing this to yourself and stop, you know, demeaning yourself by giving up on, you know, what you can do.
UREVICH: Currently there are more than 160 Guardian Scholars. Demand is growing, says Gene Howard. However funding is limited. This year Child Welfare advocates lobbied the California legislature to expand the program with state funding. They were unsuccessful.
For NPR News, I'm Robin Urevich in Los Angeles.
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