By Tasha Matthews
Photo, left: Staff and mentors at Fostering Opportunities Scholarships
Part I in a series on foster youth programs
September 22, 2015 (San Diego)-- Half of all foster kids in the U.S. end up homeless as adults. Just 10% go to college, and of those, only 3% graduate. Although foster youths comprise less than 0.3% of the state’s population, 40% of the people in homeless shelters are former foster youths, as is a high percentage of the country's prison population. Over half (51% ) of foster youths are unemployed. Yet despite these staggering statistics, many foster youths are bright, talented individuals who have proven that they can thrive—with help from some local groups working to help them have a brighter future.
Fortunately, the San Diego region has a number of organizations attaining positive successes, helping meet the educational needs of foster youths and provide them hope for brighter futures. For Part I in our series on foster youth programs, we’re profiling Fostering Opportunities Scholarships, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping foster youths reach college education with financial assistance and mentors.
Formally known as Dollars for Scholars, Fostering Opportunities is supported by a great many donors and mentors. It was established in 2002 by Katie Elsbree and other retired women with the idea that foster youths need to be funded because they have great potential to make a positive difference in this world.
Mentors make this program unique. They help provide support for the foster youths and ensure that they are getting all the necessary care that can be fulfilled during their college years. Mentors call up and meet with the students regularly, developing lasting relationships with them.
Having been born into the foster care system and having gone through high school, I was surprised by how much support there was out there for foster youth.
I interviewed one of my former mentors, Co-Chair and President of the Fostering Opportunities Scholarship, Mary Jo Macomber. She has dedicated so much time perfecting this phenomenal organization, she has ensured that I have been on top of my school work and checks in on my overall well-being.
T: What drew you into wanting to help our foster youth in particular?
M: I grew up in a large loving family where our parents taught us to always give back to our community.
T: Are there any measurable outcomes to the success rate of the program?
M: Yes we are very pleased that we have 36 former foster youth that have earned a Bachelor degree and three grads from the Masters program. We also have one student in law school and another student preparing to enter law school. Currently we have 21 undergrad students.
T: What has been the most memorable experience with Fostering Opportunities?
M: Several years ago, I flew to Oakland, California and went to the graduation ceremonies at Mills College. Our student, Georgette Todd, received her Masters degree and was chosen to be the guest speaker; it was very exciting!
T: Are specific needs for Fostering Opportunities that are required to be met, and if so, what can readers do to help out?
M: Mentors and donations are always needed. No donation is too small or too large! Some of the donors include: San Diego Las Hermanas, San Diego Tierrasanta Juniors Club, Ocean Beach Women's Club, and other private donors. Ocean Beach Community Foundation is an affiliate of Fostering Opportunities Scholarship.
Katie Elsbree, another Co-Chair of the organization, realized in her classroom that a foster youth aged out of the system and no longer showed up to school. Elsbree wanted to make a difference, so she helped to pull a group together to discover Fostering Opportunities Dollars for Scholars.
The students are required to turn in applications by June and October to get fall and spring scholarships as well as turn in transcripts and come to three luncheons throughout the school year. The luncheons bring in all these scholars together with the donors, mentors, and board members. Awards are handed out, food is served, gift cards are given, and specially made cookies that have love and care baked into them are given out during Christmas. There is always a tasty dessert that is perking up taste buds during the luncheons.
I am happy to know there is support from Fostering Opportunities Scholarship so that we may reach our fullest potential!
Photo, left: Author Tasha Matthews with Fostering Opportunities mentor Kristin Kjaero