By Sharmayne Schaffer and Angela Wolfe
Tri-C has a place and resources for people who have aged out of foster care
Only 58% will graduate high school by age 19.
More than one in five will become homeless after 18.
One in four will have a run in with the criminal justice system within two years of aging out.
Fewer than 3 percent will earn a college degree by age 25.
This is the harsh reality many aged-out foster youth face each day.
In an effort to improve retention and graduation rates for students who have aged out of the state’s foster care system, Ohio Reach selected Tri-C for a three-year, $60,000 grant. According to Janice Marshall, Tri-C’s Associate Vice President of Access and Community Engagement, a key component of the Cuyahoga Community College Completion Initiative is to focus on helping student populations who often face challenges to college completion.
“The goal is to help all Tri-C students complete college credentials to promote career success and economic self-sufficiency,” she said. “A focused effort on mentoring students who have aged-out of the foster care system will increase student success and the graduation rates.”
For many emancipated youth, turning 18 in the foster care system means losing financial, educational and communal support. Therefore, thousands of youth transition from foster care without permanent family connections, self-sufficiency skills or a place to live.
This was a reality Kevinee Gilmore experienced firsthand. Graduating high school meant being emancipated on her 18th birthday; and that she was. Arriving back at her foster home on the last day of her senior year she was told, “If you want to stay here you have to pay $250 in rent.” “I didn’t want to do that,” said Kevinee.
Taking the much need advice of her caseworker, Kevinee showed up with garbage bags in tow and enrolled in Cleveland State University to have a place to sleep and feel safe. It was there, Kevinee found her love for higher learning.
However, the pain of loneliness and financial strain was still ever-present.
Struggling with finding her way through college, Kevinee transferred to Tri-C to take advantage of the dual enrollment opportunity. She then returned to CSU and graduated with a Bachelors degree in Psychology. Although it took seven years to complete, her sheer dedication and determination proved to be her way to success.
“It felt good through the adversity to say, I’m in college, and then to say, I graduated from college was something to be proud of,” said Kevinee. “I wanted people that didn’t listen to me and my siblings as we were shuffled through the system to acknowledge, respect, and work with me as a professional.”
Fortunately, the program will provide services to address these challenges. The services include Foster Scholars Campus Liaisons on each of Tri-C’s four campuses to coordinate services and serve as a single point of contact. In addition, a Foster Scholars Mentorship Program, Foster Scholars Scholarships, academic and financial support, and a community of peers are all added to support students.
Additional help is also available on each campus by way of the TRiO program. Students support services are offered to anyone that has aged out of foster care or have been emancipated by the department of children and family services, and are first generation college students.
“TRiO is a safe place, we are very diverse in our thinking, and very flexible in our approach to each student because our approach is individual,” stated Tammy Tucker Interim-director of TRiO. Our motto is, “Once you have applied and are accepted we will look after you as if you were our own child.”
The overwhelming difficulties that these sometimes overlooked students face can be the determining factor to their academic success or failure.
“Getting through higher education can be scary, but if you have the support it doesn’t have to be,” said Tucker. “We are here to guide you through what you might think are the silliest questions, to making sure you know why you chose your major area of study.
Latasha Watts, Founder and Executive Director of The Purple Project, which provides services for aged-out youth, is also no stranger to these challenges. The former Tri-C student and Foster Care advocate can recall a time when one of her clients gave up due to a lack of financial support:
“I had a client that I put into a program that would help him with hospitality management. But, he decided to walk away from that and go get a job at a fast-food restaurant. If he would have stayed and completed the program, he could have received certification and apply to any restaurant. But he didn’t see that. He saw this program as too hard, we don’t make enough money and I need to make money now. Within 30 days, he got fired from his job and is now back and forth to the plasma bank to pay his bills.”
Unfortunately this story, like others, is not uncommon. Many foster care youth are struggling to make a smooth transition into society. Hopefully they find their way to Tri-C’s doorsteps. Watts believes this program will not only help students go to college, but stay in college.
“I think this program will help them with retention as far as education goes, because a lot of our kids go to college and don’t know how to stay in college.”