Special services offered for foster youth

Funds and services are available for those who qualify, supportive and caring staff included.

By Valerie Garcia, Staff Writer

Valley College is offering special services for former or current foster youth, as well as support for single parents who are receiving cash aid, to help them reach their academic goals.

The NextUp/Guardian Scholars and CARE programs, offered at the Student Services Center, help students that are at a disadvantage by providing guidance, financial aid, counseling and monthly meetings in order to help these students stay on track. Guardian Scholars and NextUp are for former or current foster youth as well as for people that have been a ward of the court, while CARE (Cooperative Agencies Resources for Education) helps those who are single parents.

Guardian Scholars is more generalized and easier to apply for, as there is no age limit and the amount of time spent in foster care does not affect eligibility. There are three different categories within the program: Guardian Scholars, Guardian Scholars with EOPS and NextUp. Each has specific requirements for eligibility and determines which benefits students will receive. Applicants that provide court documents regarding ward of the court history will also be eligible for the second category.

Some of the benefits of the program include: backpacks, parking permits, food vouchers, counseling, tutoring, textbook vouchers, workshops, priority registration, and field trips to colleges.

"The workshops help because they teach us life skills that we wouldn't normally have,” said Belen Lopez Curiel, a student enrolled in the EOPS and NextUp program, “and the counselors are great because they have experience working with us and are familiar with the types of problems we have.”

Students must meet 5 requirements to apply for Guardian Scholars: be educationally challenged, have a low income and be eligible for a fee waiver, enrolled in 12 or more units at Valley, have less than 50 degree applicable units from all colleges attended and be a California resident or meet California Dream Act Requirements. All meet-ups are mandatory to receive credit towards a stipend that is given at the end of each semester.

To be eligible for Next Up, a student must be eligible for EOPS, be enrolled in at least 9 units at Valley, be a current or former foster youth whose dependency was established or continued by the court after turning 16 and be no older than 25 years of age at the beginning of the academic year. The application process is extended for these programs, since it can be difficult to provide some of the proof needed to be eligible.

Alex Ojeda, coordinator of EOPS, NextUp and Guardian Scholars said, “It’s hard work, but I call it heart work because you have to have compassion and empathy to work with these students.”

“It's like a family here, we are very close and we make sure that we support the foster youth, especially because we know that they struggle and have more barriers to overcome than our regular students,” said Carissa Gonzalez, student services assistant for EOPS/NextUp. 

The CARE program supports the unique needs of EOPS students who are single parents. To be eligible for CARE, a student must be eligible for EOPS, a single head of household, must be 18 years of age or older and currently receiving cash aid through CalWorks or TANF for themselves and their children. They offer workshops, additional counseling, educational materials and financial assistance for childcare-related expenses.

Though these services are available, not many students are taking advantage of them.  

According to Ojeda, “Last year, there were 400 self-identified former and current foster youth enrolled at Valley, but only about a quarter of these students took advantage of it.”

This is unfortunate, especially when it has been proven that these types of services are beneficial and have a positive impact on those who have applied for them. "Since Guardian Scholars started in 2014, the number of participants that have graduated or transferred has doubled, and we anticipate even more this year," Ojeda said. "We are working very hard to destigmatize some of the preconceived notions people have about those in foster care and, with programs like this, we are starting to see a shift in statistics."

Applications are still being accepted until September 27. Applications can be submitted online through the school website, or at the EOPS Office on the second floor of the Student Services Center. Their number is (818) 947-2432.

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