In the United States alone, more than 400,000 children and youth are in foster care at any given time, and each year about 20,000 kids “age out” of foster care, typically after turning 18. Aging out of foster care, or emancipating, can be a difficult experience for many, as it can mean losing access to housing, resources and support the system provides.
May is National Foster Care Month, and it’s important to bring attention to how critically important the system is for so many people, but also to the additional challenges that many kids in the system face. While 80% of foster youth report wanting to attend college, less than 15% attempt and only 3% actually attain a college degree. This is just one of the many areas where disparities persist between all kids and kids in foster care.
Helping All Young People Achieve with The Family Fellowship
Together We Rise is just one non-profit organization dedicated to making the foster care system work better. The organization’s program, The Family Fellowship, provides resources, scholarships and a family environment to help youth who are transitioning into adulthood without foster care support. The Family Fellowship Program launched in 2015, and was made possible by Hope D. Smith and Robert F. Smith and the Fund II Foundation. The Smith family welcomed the first ten students into the Family Fellowship by hosting a lunch at their home. At the luncheon they supplied each student with a MacBook and committed to financially supporting the fellows throughout the next five years.
“I wept along the way, but my resilience has been ignited,” said Shay House, one of the ten fellows invited to the Smith’s home. Shay was one of the first fellows in the Family Fellowship program. Before joining the program, Shay lived in 45 different foster homes, 8 group homes and attended 23 different schools. Despite the challenges, she graduated as valedictorian of her high school class.
House is just one example of the untapped potential bursting from the seams of the foster care system. So many young people in foster care have overcome enormous obstacles in their lives, and with some support, they can achieve their dreams and live out their full potential. The Fund II Foundation, of which Smith is president and Founding Director, has long supported efforts to increase access to opportunities for all children. One of the Fund II Foundation’s programs, internXL, helps young people from ethnically underrepresented groups get access to prestigious paid internships in STEM fields. These opportunities provide “on ramps” to high-quality jobs and careers for participants in the program.
By focusing on closing existing achievement gaps and expanding opportunities for people who have historically lacked access, programs like Together We Rise are helping remove barriers for young people in the foster care system.
While applications for the Family Fellowship scholarship have closed for 2021, you can still get to know some of the current Fellowship scholars and the Together We Rise program.