We have many successful students here at UCF that have come out of the foster care system or have lost their parents at an early age. Due to the support of care providers and their own perseverance; these students have reached their personal goal of attending college.
They are amazing people who are sensitive to the world around them. Many of these students will go on to live important and fulfilling lives. They have been empowered through their journey toward adulthood. This is also true of many foster youth who persevered and met their goals in employment through training, parental training, entering military service and/or overcoming substance abuse and going on to a variety of successful careers. We would like to reach out to foster youth and help them believe and visualize a future with many options and possibilities. How will you and others positively influence your journey to adulthood?
Below is the story and testimony of a former student who graduated from the University of Central Florida.
You never really worry about money for college until you’re staring at a bill for four classes, technology fees, off-campus fees, lab fees, and a bunch of other things that go way over your head. Even at a community college and a public college, the amount staring at you in red is enough to choke a horse, if the said horse is you and your empty wallet.
There are very few things about living in the foster care system here in Florida that is perfect. They (the caseworkers and foster parents and group home workers) do their best but obviously it is not an ideal childhood for anyone. What I can say though, is that the funding the state provides for independent living young adults is amazing. Through their waivers and scholarships, they make higher education for students coming from a not-so-great background possible. We didn’t have parents with savings funds. Some of us struggled to keep our high school grades up, so scholarships like Bright Futures are just out of reach. The Independent living waiver doesn’t care about any of that. It’s a piece of paper that says, “You deserve an education to better yourself. Here, let me help.”
However, it is up to us and the faculty at the schools we attend to make sure that we receive the help we need. The waiver is just a piece of paper. It is the people in the financial aid office who add on to their already heavy workloads to make sure that we, waiver recipients get what we need. It’s the woman who called me in my fifth semester at Valencia and asked me how she could help me.
I started my schooling at Valencia, and unfortunately, I took my waiver for granted. It was great, seeing how much I would have had to pay, but that magic little paper made it all go away. And then Pell grant came and basically PAID me to go to school! How lucky was I? But that attitude got in my own way. I took for granted the classes I was in; I skipped and didn’t do assignments. “I can just take it again,” I thought.
The patience of the state of Florida and government grants only goes so far. When my GPA dropped to a 1.2 and I had either withdrawn or failed 45% of my classes, they took all that magical money away. Suddenly I had to pay FULL PRICE for a class, all of my books, and that nice fat check from the government went poof!
Needless to say my attitude toward school changed real fast. I stopped skipping, started doing my homework. I busted my rump working and going to school and pulled my GPA back up.
But still that check was elusive. The ever-faithful waiver was still by my side, taking care of tuition and fees. But books, gas, car insurance, all of that is expensive. Finally, someone called me. She asked how to help me and walked me through the process of petitioning to receive financial aid. The government checks returned, and I stopped bouncing my own. I kept my good attitude toward school and my hard work paid off.
I’m a junior at UCF now. I’m in the College of Education, majoring in English Language Arts Education with a minor in Creative Writing. My overall GPA is a 3.4, last semester I took 5 classes, worked a part-time job, and did extracurricular on the side. My grades were 4 A’s and a B. It’s possible.
The moral of my story is to not take what you’re given for granted. I did, and since I had to spend so much time catching up, my last and final year at UCF is all on my shoulders. My waiver has a time limit and it’s looming ever closer. And ask for help. Go to the student service offices, the financial aid office, advisors. They’re all here to help us and are more than willing to if you just ask. Here at UCF, I have open communication with the head of the financial aid office. She is brimming with excitement for me here at UCF, for my future. She wants me to achieve it and is going to do anything she can to help. And I’m not receiving any special treatment; that’s how she feels for every student here at UCF. Trust me; the people in those offices aren’t there for the money. Just like group home workers. They’re there because they truly care.
I truly believe that with the right attitude, hard work, and asking for help; college is a possibility for everyone. After you find your pathway in college, make sure and pay it forward.