Years of bouncing around California foster care left Jason Weems yearning for a better future. Like so many youth exiting foster care, he needed help to make that happen. Luckily for Jason and about 250 other former foster kids, Sierra College has the support they need. The Auburn Journal reports:
Sonbol Aliabadi, executive director of the Sierra College Foundation, said 100 students received backpacks full of school supplies like notebooks, flash drives and scientific calculators this year. The packs also include hygiene essentials, like shampoo, soap and toothpaste.
Sierra also provides students who were formerly in foster care with a $200 voucher for textbooks.
That seemingly small bit of help can make all the difference for students like Weems, who says Sierra College has allowed him to relax and have a more typical college experience:
“Part of being a productive student is the other side, where you take a few hours and relax and get yourself back together,” he said. “It’s not much, but it’s enough extra money to go get a piece of pizza with your friends on the weekend and experience college like a college student instead of always struggling.”
The college’s effort to help former foster youth began in 2007 when the College Transitional Support Team was formed. Since then, a city grant and widespread community support have helped the project grow into what it is today.
Jerome Jackson, 19, is another student who credits the program with helping him pursue his academic dreams. Beyond the financial assistance, Jerome points to the sense of community that Sierra College has created for former foster youth:
“It’s nice because when I was in middle school I would tell people I was in foster care and it felt like there was a separation. They were always calling their biological parents ‘mom and dad’ and I was calling people by their first name,” Jackson said. “Here, I feel like that separation isn’t there anymore, people understand my differences and want to help.”
For the people running the program, their reward is knowing the difference they make in the lives of those who need a helping hand:
“This minimal support has gone a long way in helping them accept and understand that there is someone out there that cares for them,” Aliabadi said. “These backpacks aren’t only filled with items, they’re filled with love.”