APTOS -- In a world filled with financial aid forms, upcoming class registrations and looming deadlines, higher education is a world unto its own for even the savviest of incoming college students.
But what may be simple stumbling blocks for some can become impenetrable walls for former foster youth, many of whom lack the financial and emotional support of their peers.
Nearly 150 community colleges in California have programs geared toward ensuring former foster youths' success, according to the California Community Colleges Chancellor's Office. Among them is Cabrillo College, which last year launched its Foster Youth Program thanks to a $50,000 gift from an anonymous donor. Those funds are used to provide scholarships and grants, cover administrative costs and support student mentors who themselves are products of the foster care system.
At Monday's Board of Trustees meeting, members accepted a second, $50,000 gift from the same donor, which was used to provide services over the fall to dozens of students. Of the $100,000 total, about $61,300 has been used for scholarships and grants and $38,700 for program support, according to Melinda Silverstein, executive director of the Cabrillo College Foundation. Cabrillo's Vice President of Student Services Dennis Bailey-Fougnier, said participation increased from 19 students last spring to more than 50 in the fall.
Only 20 percent of foster youth attend college compared
About 125 students have identified themselves as foster youth at Cabrillo, making them eligible for state services thanks to a bill signed in 2010 that extends services through the age of 21. Before that, "they were just getting the boot when they turned 18. It's like a bird getting kicked out of a nest when they don't know how to fly yet," said Joseph Watkins, a 20-year-old who now mentors about half a dozen students as part of the program.
When he moved here from San Luis Obispo to attend Cabrillo, he found himself adrift, with no support network that he could tap into to receive help. But he made his way through, and eventually got involved in student government, with the goal of obtaining a double degree in philosophy and political science to help make policy changes.
"I like the fact that I'm able to provide for others," he said, adding when he first arrived at Cabrillo, "I didn't have people to guide me and I had to do it on my own. It's great that there's something like this for them."
Follow Sentinel reporter Kimberly White on Twitter at Twitter.com/kwhite95066