For foster youth turning 18 means losing their support–financial, educational, familial, and social–resources that they require. While approximately 80% of foster youth have a desire to attend college, less than 15% will attempt, and only 3% will ever graduate. These circumstances result in handicapping foster youth’s ability to become self-sufficient adults.
In efforts to combat this problem, Together We Rise, a non-profit, dedicated to changing the way youth experience foster care in America created the Family Fellowship. The Family Fellowship Program supports former foster youth in their efforts to gain a university, community college or trade school education. The program provides resources, scholarships and a family environment to help youth that are aging out of the system. The Family Fellowship will enroll 10 Fellows the first year to create its ‘”freshman” class and increase the next year by 30 to combine a total team of 40 Fellows.
It was through the generous introduction by Hope D. Smith with her husband Robert F. Smith, the founding director and President of the Fund II Foundation, that this program was able to launch this Fall 2015. The Smith family has welcomed the first 10 students into the Family Fellowship with a lunch in Malibu, California. At this lunch, the students and the Smith family bonded with stories of resilience and ambition. Towards the end of lunch the students were surprised with new MacBooks and the promise of financial and emotional support throughout the next 5 years. Tears filled the eyes of everyone at the table as everyone joined hands and Robert announced they were not alone anymore.
One of students said, “Thank you for giving me family and truly believing in my potential. I can’t wait to start on this new life-changing journey with TWR. “ All of the students come from hardships a child should never have to face but overcame to understand they are worthy of an education and the pursuit of their dreams. “Yes, I wept along the way but my resilience has been ignited,” said Shay House one of the 10 Fellows. Shay has experienced 45 different foster homes, 8 group homes, and 23 different schools but still managed to graduate as valedictorian of her class.
After the introductory lunch, TWR, took the fellows to celebrate at Disneyland where they cheered each other with milkshakes and vowed to take care of each other throughout their journey. Together We Rise will continue to give them tuition support, academic assistance, mentors, care packages, housing assistance, job assistance, and leadership building activities.
Together We Rise looks forward to the next class of Fellows as applications open again in November with focus on students living in Colorado and Texas. A special thank you to the Smith family for their open and generous hearts.
[It is appalling but true that every day 1,200 children enter the foster care system in America. Even more appalling, according to the U.S. Health and Human Services’ Children’s Bureau, over 23,000 exit (aged out of) the system every year with no permanent home and the odds stacked against them. These same youth are leading in categories of youth experiencing PTSD, homelessness, teen pregnancy, sex trafficking, and several other social issues. . And the cost is in the billions for our society—projected to be $7.8 billion.]