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April 23, 2007
Sacramento State Bulletin

Guardian Scholars offers support for former foster youth

An academic and social safety net for students who in many ways have been left to fend for themselves—men and women who grew up in the foster care system—is the goal of a new campus program.

Guardian Scholars, which began in June, initially aimed to provide scholarships to each student. When that wasn’t practical, rather than put the program on hold or help just a few, program organizers decided to tailor the program to provide guidance through the college process, along with mentoring opportunities.

“We wanted there to be no limit on how many we could serve, so we decided to proceed while building the program,” says Joy Salvetti Wolfe, Guardian Scholars program director. “We want to be a ‘non-institution’ for them to make the campus more welcoming and accessible for them.

“There’s no line they have to stand in. We’re a one-stop shop.”

To determine what students would need, Salvetti Wolfe and her advisory committee asked former foster children already enrolled at Sacramento State to name their top three concerns. They told her healthcare, housing and financial aid. “It was kind of surprising,” Salvetti Wolfe says. “We expected financial aid to be number one.”

Many students weren’t aware they had health services available. And even if they did, they still need guidance to navigate the system. “We told them these were things that will be taken care of for you. All you have to do is go to school. That really appealed to them,” she says.

In addition to providing guidance, the program offers a form of “family support.” Participants are each paired with mentors, who come from both on and off campus. Mentors and students meet regularly, sometimes weekly, and touch base via e-mail.

For example, during Winter Break the mentors called students to make sure they had somewhere to go for the holidays. Salvetti Wolfe says the value of this contact became evident when they learned that one of the students had become homeless. “We were able to discover it because the mentor followed up. If there is a gap, these students can fall through it,” Salvetti Wolfe says. “The mentor becomes a surrogate friend, brother, sister. They are someone the students can talk to about anything.”

There are also campus mixers every two months, sponsored by the Casey Foundation, which give students a chance to catch up with each other and their mentors.

Students in the program show a propensity to give back. Two want to be doctors, one a teacher, others a psychologist and a social worker. Another already has passed the real estate exam and attributes his success to the fact that he has a sounding board, an adult figure who has “been through it before.”

Salvetti Wolfe and her advisors—Craig Yamamoto from Financial Aid, Cynthia Cockrill and Peggy Luers from Residential Life and Housing, and Darlene Spencer from the Student Health Center—are now identifying potential Guardian Scholars and helping them get enrolled at Sacramento State. In March they hosted a Foster Youth Campus Day for high school and community college students featuring campus tours and talks with current guardian scholars.

And while they currently can’t offer scholarships to all Guardian Scholars, that prospect is getting closer. An October fashion show sponsored by the Foster Youth Education Fund raised $20,000 for scholarships. Foster youth served as models, including some Sacramento State students. Scholarships went to two students and the remainder of the funds will be available to others for books and other supplies. Another fashion show will be held in the fall.

The program also received $12,500 from the Walter S. Johnson Foundation and is seeking additional grant funding.

Interest in the program is growing. Six freshmen and several transfer students are already signed up for next year. Part of the plan is to target community college students because area community colleges have well-established foster youth programs. They are also trying to reach current high school students, wards of the court, and youth who have been in group homes.

Salvetti Wolfe is also using her other job as head of the Early Assessment Program to identify candidates and assure that potentially eligible students get the proper preparation. “Early assessment is essential so that at-risk youth get an early warning on competencies. You have to address the need for remedial education at the forefront and give input they would normally get from schools and parents. It’s important not to just be college eligible but college ready,” she says.


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