A Home for the Holidays
The January 2010 annual holiday dinner out at San Francisco State. From left to right: program supporter Dana Corvin, Guardian Scholars Sokhom Mao, Juliana Lopez, Maribel Coronel, Odessa Powers, Tiffany Brooks, Kayla Daniels, Shameka West, Andre Helms, Patrick Lee, and Brittney Venter, Program Director Xochitl Sanchez-Zarama and Program Social Worker Sonja Lenz-Rashid
December 23, 2010
By Erik Fallis
For CSU campuses, the winter break is a time of transition as much as celebration. Many students are moving back or at least visiting the place they called "home" in their childhood. Most of the administration, faculty and staff members are off for at least a week. CSU campuses are certainly quiet for the holidays, but they are never empty. A small student population continues to call the campus home during the holidays. Among this population is a growing number of former foster youth.
In fact, more students identified as former foster youth attend the CSU than the UC and all California community colleges combined. California students that have worked their way through the foster youth system have first priority for campus housing. For many former foster youth, this campus housing forms a critical bridge from a childhood in "the system" and young adulthood. The campus resident experience can often be the most stable housing arrangement of their lives.
CSU campuses take great care for the needs of this group of students. Of the more than 1,300 former foster youth identified in the CSU, most qualify for the maximum financial aid award. This funding typically covers tuition, campus housing and other academic-related expenses. However, many of these students continue to work in order to support family members, participate in education-enhancing activities and build for the future.
Finances are also only one of many challenges that face former foster youth. They often seek out peer support, connections with campus staff, counseling, academic advising and other services to ensure that they complete their degrees and are prepared for life after college. The names vary – including Guardian, Promise, Renaissance, Elite, Court, Resilient, CME and ACE – but at nearly every CSU campus, you will find a comprehensive program dedicated to serving the needs of former foster youth. The connections forged through this program are essential to providing those basics beyond housing that many take for granted – especially during the holiday season.
Family dinner is often one of those traditions that factor into the holidays. Former foster youth of campuses including Pomona, San Bernardino, San Francisco and Stanislaus gather with their fellow students and program support staff to share a meal, experiences and words of encouragement. Depending on the campus, these meals can include other students staying in the dorms through the holidays or the siblings of CSU students who also do not have a place to celebrate.
CSU Fullerton, the campus that founded the Guardian Scholars Program, honored their students at two annual holiday parties hosted by advisory board members and donors. At the first of the receptions, more than 180 people attended as Fullerton guardian scholar alums and each current student received a gift of inspiration.
Statewide, gift cards and care packages are handed-out and accompanied by a little holiday cheer. At CSU East Bay, more than $2,000 worth of food is distributed to students staying in campus housing. A handful of CSU East Bay Renaissance Scholar students also attended a celebration hosted by the John Burton Foundation for Children Without Homes, where they received down vests and gift certificates to help get them through the holidays.
Campus presidents are often directly involved in the efforts to make a campus into a holiday home for former foster youth. For example, CSU Monterey Bay President Dianne Harrison and her advisory council send a card and small gift to CSUMB former foster youth students, acknowledging the many obstacles they overcame to achieve a university education.
Whole divisions might join in the responsibility of providing a connection for former foster youth on campus. At San Diego State, the University Relations and Development division "adopted" the freshmen guardian scholars, presenting gifts to the students as they attended the division's annual holiday party.
Ultimately, ensuring that students know they are not alone even when the campus goes quiet is one of the primary goals of university staff and administration. One on one contact, care packages, gifts and parties are all designed so that students know that they are in fact home for the holidays.
Note: The mid-story right photo show the holiday luncheon at CSU Stanislaus with (from left to right) Promise Scholars Jade Mosley, Antoinette Morris, and Tabitha Schivley as well as Promise Scholar Advisor Araceli Garcia, Director Wanda Bonnell, Director of Development Shannon Nichols, and Santa Claus.