Mentors Help Former Foster Youths Realize Dreams
March 31, 2009 / UC Davis News and Information
Foster care was a rough experience for Marita Grant, and at one time her future looked bleak. She saw her peers from foster care living on the streets and doing drugs. Everyone dismissed her dream of a college education.
But today, the junior is thriving at UC Davis with the help of a program that offers support to former foster youths. The Guardian Scholars Program, now in its second year at UC Davis, is providing about 45 students with practical help, a social network and individual mentoring.
"It's definitely the rock I've been standing on since I got here," said Grant, who is studying political science with a minor in psychology.
UC Davis is among 30 campuses across the country to offer the Guardian Scholars Program in what is a growing effort to make higher education more attainable for former foster youths.
Only about 2 percent of young people from foster care obtained bachelor's degrees, compared with 24 percent of adults in the general population, according to research by the Seattle-based Casey Family Programs foundation.
At UC Davis, major funding for the program includes a $12,500 planning grant from the Walter S. Johnson Foundation and a $55,000 matching grant in each of three years from the Stuart Foundation.
Born in Sierra Leone, Grant came to the United States at age 12, entered foster care at 14 and bounced among several foster and group homes in California. She used a California Chafee Grant to study for two years at CSU-Los Angeles and transferred to UC Davis in September.
Brandy Jenkins of Fairfield, a second-generation foster child, is also a Guardian Scholar. She entered the foster system at age 11 and dropped out of high school by ninth grade.
Jenkins completed high school and, as a mother of four, worked full time while earning an Associate of Arts at Napa Valley Community College. The 28-year-old transferred to UC Davis last fall.
For Jenkins, the program's mentoring relationship is "an extremely powerful experience."
The sociology major and Diane Wolf, a professor of sociology and director of the Jewish Studies Program, meet weekly and communicate frequently by telephone and e-mail.
"Coming from being a former foster youth, I gave up on myself because no one expected anything of me," Jenkins said. "Diane expects me to do my best, and -- with her expectation -- my best keeps getting better."
Wolf is one of 32 faculty and staff volunteers who serve as mentors. The program, which has a staff and a peer adviser, also helps scholars navigate the campus and connect with other resources.
Both Grant and Jenkins plan to attend law school on their way to helping and motivating other foster youth.