Monday, August 04, 2008

UCR Guardian Scholars should exist in EVERY state, not just a few

UCR to Aid Former Foster Youth
Aug. 21 fund-raiser will help launch the Guardian Scholars program this fall
Miller, Bettye. Aug. 1, 2008.

RIVERSIDE - Youth who have aged out of the foster-care system face numerous obstacles to earning a college degree, not the least of which are the lack of a family support system and the need for year-round housing.

UC Riverside is hoping to ease the transition for qualifying students with the launch this fall of UCR Guardian Scholars, a nationwide program that provides scholarships, life coaching, mentors, housing and personalized attention to emancipated youth.

"These kids have no safety net, and they have disproportionate needs," said Tuppett Yates, assistant professor of psychology who is leading the UC Riverside effort.

UCR Guardian Scholars will host a fund-raiser on Thursday, Aug. 21, from 6 to 9 p.m. on campus at The Barn. Drinks and food will be available for purchase, and the cover band Crash Dance will perform. Admission is free, although donations are appreciated, Yates said.

The program needs to raise at least $20,000 the first year to cover the cost of summer housing, scholarships, books, food and emergencies, said Jan Opdyke, executive director of scholarships and alumni reunions. An anonymous donor has committed to a challenge gift of $10,000 to launch the program, she said.

"This is a most generous gift in support of these students," Opdyke said. "Every dollar given to Guardian Scholars will be matched by this donor, dollar for dollar."

Among the 3,800 freshmen entering UCR this fall are 55 students who have identified themselves as having a history of foster care, Yates said. Not all are eligible for UCR Guardian Scholars, which specifically targets youth who are emancipating from the system and have little social, emotional or material support.

About 70 percent of foster youth say they want a college education, but only 10 percent enroll, and only 1 percent earn a degree, Yates said. Nationally, about 70 percent of students who participate in the Guardian Scholars program graduate in four years.

Most foster youth in the Inland area don't know that attending UCR is an option, Yates said. "It should be," she said. "A lot of these kids are ready, they’re talented and they’re strong."

The psychology professor, who studies risk and resilience among high-risk youth, said UCR Guardian Scholars will serve a total of about 40 students, starting with about four students this fall.

"These are kids with fragmented histories who don't need a fragmented education," Yates said. "UCR Guardian Scholars will offer them a comprehensive and cohesive educational experience to help them reach their potential."

In California, about two-thirds of youth leaving foster care do so without a place to live. Studies show that foster youth with multiple placements are five to 10 times more likely to become involved with the juvenile justice system than youth in the general population, Yates said. One-fourth of former foster youth will be incarcerated within the first two years after aging out of the system, she said.

Guardian Scholars started in 1998 at California State University, Fullerton and operates at more than 20 universities in California, Washington, Indiana, Colorado and Massachusetts.

More than 40 faculty and staff are involved in developing the UCR program, with key leadership positions held by Yates; Audrey Pusey, assistant director for residence life; Katina Napper, director of academic personnel; Louise Jones, Cal Grant coordinator; and Cynthia Moon, a graduate student in psychology who is a head resident in a campus residence hall.

For more information contact Yates at (951) 827-4991 or tuppett.yates@ucr.edu. To make a contribution, make checks payable to UC Foundation, GS Foster Youth Fund, and send them to Jan Opdyke at 1150 University Ave., 110A Highlander Hall, Riverside, CA 92521, or contact her at jopdyke@ucr.edu, (951) 827-5676.

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