JCSU Makes College Possible for Youth Who Age Out of Foster Care
Charlotte, N.C., January 21, 2013- For sophomore Danyell Mitchell, college was not always an option. As a youth growing up in foster care in Cleveland, Ohio, she had little or no guidance about how to get into college, let alone pay for it. Even the application process proved daunting. “College was not an option in my head because I knew I couldn’t afford it,” said Mitchell. But in the back of her mind was a nagging desire to become the first in her family to attend.
It was during her junior year in high school when she decided to turn her aspirations into action. She moved to California to live with her aunt and uncle who were able to provide her with the encouragement and support she needed. When she heard about a national tour of HBCUs, she knew the cost was beyond reach so she came up with a way to raise funds for the tour. “I wrote a sponsorship letter and sent it to friends, church members and family back in Ohio,” she said. Her resourcefulness paid off, and she joined the tour.
Her first choice at the time, proved disappointing. “The area and the campus were not what I expected,” she said. When the tour stopped at another school, Johnson C. Smith University, one school she hadn’t heard of, Mitchell didn’t want to get off the bus at first. But once she stepped foot on campus it all changed. “The tour guide made me fall in love with the school,” she said.
As a new student, Mitchell described herself as a “kid in a candy store,” taking advantage of every opportunity she could find – from academic scholarships to tutoring support and jobs on campus. Academic challenges and financial obstacles are constant reminders of the need to keep looking for avenues of support wherever she can find them. Some of these resources were made available to Mitchell through a budding program on campus for students who have aged out of the foster care system. “They reached out to me in the beginning,” she smiled.
The Foster Village Network Center, a JCSU initiative for current and former foster care students, helped Mitchell when she thought she would be unable to return after freshman year due to finances. Through this program Mitchell was able to find additional funding to help her continue with her studies. “My first year was a struggle financially, but this year was better,” she said. “I kept my grades up, so I received four or five scholarships plus a job as a resident assistant that pays for room and board.”
As part of her extracurricular activities, Mitchell participates in the Guardian Scholars Program to help create an academic environment of success for other students who come from foster care backgrounds. Serving as a student mentor, she meets with high school students to provide guidance and encouragement.
“If you have so much as a thought of college,” Mitchell advises to students, “reach out for support. A lot of people are scared to ask for help because they don’t want to be rejected.” She also likes to share her favorite quote from Ghandi: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
With two more years to go, Mitchell already has her sights set on graduate school and recently became interested in physical therapy as a profession. She has moments of amazement over how far she has come. “Every day I walk around and say I still can’t believe I’m in college.”
About the Foster Care Village Network Guardian Scholars Program
The impact of the Guardian Scholars Program can be measured in terms of retention. Since 2008, 100 percent of the JCSU students who received assistance through the program have graduated. For many students, the mentoring starts before they leave high school. This year, more than 20 high school students in the foster care system or who are at risk of child welfare involvement, who desire a college education are coming to campus to be mentored by JCSU students and prepare for the SAT and ACT.
As 10 new JCSU students who have been impacted by the child welfare system enrolled at Johnson C. Smith University this fall, they joined about 20 other current students of similar backgrounds. These students arrived with a set of unique needs and circumstances varying from financial to academic and residential life-related matters. Once completed, the Foster Village Network Center on campus will provide a permanent home to serve these current and future students.
Founded in 1867, Johnson C. Smith University is an independent, close-knit urban university located in Charlotte, N.C. It has a growing national reputation for integrating the liberal arts with business, the sciences and technology in ways that empower tomorrow’s diverse entrepreneurial citizens and leaders. Offering 23 fields of study to more than 1,600 students from a variety of ethnic, socioeconomic and geographic backgrounds, the university’s excellent academic programs focus on servant leadership, civic engagement and global responsibility. For more information about JCSU, visit www.jcsu.edu or follow the university on social media sites Facebook , Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn.
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