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SBCC program offers aid to students raised in foster care

Courtesy Image
The Guardian Scholars at their Thanksgiving dinner, Monday, Nov. 23, in the John Dunn Gourmet Dining Room on East Campus. Image courtesy of Alejandra Martinez-Castillo.

Guardian scholars, students who are or were once raised in foster care, will soon have an official support network at the City College they can call their own.

Two separate student aid programs that both offer on and off-campus resources to guardian scholars are now being reorganized and streamlined into an official foster care program.

The Guardian Scholars Program, a foster youth group with community ties, was put under the Extended Opportunity Programs and Service this past summer, which provides qualified students with application help, financial aid, and tutoring.

“We’re trying to develop it into a program,” said Marsha Wright, director of the opportunity program.

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A myriad of forms, organizations, and applications sort hundreds of different foster students’ unique cases, and EOPS counselor Alejandra Martinez-Castillo was chosen to guide guardian scholars through the gauntlet.

Foster care education coordinator Judy Osterhage joins them. She’s pitching in her ties with the local community and says that in general, many foster students don’t know of available resources.

“[The guardian scholars] have beat the odds of the foster care system just by being students at the City College,” she said.

According to the National Working Group on Foster Care and Education, 84 percent of foster youths want to go to college out of high school, while only 20 percent get the chance. Only 2 to 9 percent attain a bachelor’s degree.

The unified Guardian program was given $50,000 for tutors, peer mentors, textbooks, and school supplies through the extended opportunity program. The fund stems from the $1 million in equity funds recently given to the City College to aid disadvantaged students.

Wendy MacGregor, the program advisor for the Guardian program, says that this is the first time the school has given direct funds to the program.

“I didn’t have much direction of what I wanted to do,” said Nathan Escobedo, president of the guardians scholar club, about first arriving at City College in 2008. “But I knew I had to go to college.”

MacGregor’s resources on and off-campus, and their continuation in the revitalized program, give guardian scholars the opportunity to help themselves

One of those resources is the YMCA My Home Program, where former foster youth 18 to 21 can find a home and develop independence. Using the same program for the past seven years, Escobedo caught up on English courses, planned his transfer to UCSB, and gives back to the program.

“I know what it was like,” Escobedo said about being a new foster student. “After being here so long, I feel like I have a lot of resources.”

That kind of peer mentorship helps guardian scholars make lasting relationships, a contrast to Jose Can’s foster youth. “I made friends, but moving foster home…I never made a solid friendship with somebody,” Can said.

Can hopped from home to home throughout Palmdale and Los Angeles. He was separated from his brothers and sisters for about a year. When he joined the Guardian program, he made friends at college.

“They give me that motivation and encouragement to succeed in school,” Can said.

Those same friends serve as a kind of family for Can as well, one with support and care. Their Thanksgiving dinner was last Monday, a bit earlier than most families.

Over three-dozen people dined at the student-run Gourmet Dining Room. Can and Escobedo shared laughs with Wright, Martinez-Castillo, and Osterhage as the warm murmur of conversations blanketed the table. Donors and social service workers were there too.

Charlene Bell, vice president of the guardians scholar club, was at the table.

For her, the Guardian program is family.

At 16-years-old, she moved out on her own and came to Santa Barbara to attend City College.

“The program made me realize you could do anything, no matter where you came from,” said Bell, who received school supplies and food vouchers from the program.

“We don’t have those resources where I’m from,” she said. “You shouldn’t feel alone.”

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