When students go off to college, not all of them leave home to do it. Some students who age out of foster care are left with nowhere to go. That's why the University of North Texas created a program that bridges the gap.
"One of the reasons why we started the summer bridge program was recognizing that a lot of times youth who age out of foster care may graduate from high school and then not really have any place to go," said Brenda Sweeten, UNT's Foster Care Liaison Officer.
The Foster Care Alumni Program is called P.U.S.H. which stands for Persevere Until Success Happens, which provides a support network for students who have experienced foster care of homelessness.
"The biggest thing is making sure we're breaking cycles, right? A lot of our students come from cycles of abuse, neglect, poverty," said Sweeten.
Incoming freshman Ryan McLendon says he was terrified at the idea of being on his own, but thanks to UNT he's got the summer to adjust to life on campus.
"So high school may have been hell, but then coming into college it's a fresh start and every problem that I come across is going to be one of my own choosing," said McLendon."So I'm able to face the day with a smile, a half a smile, three cups of coffee — because I know that anything that comes my way is something that I can control now."
Fourteen new students went through summer bridge orientation in 2021 -- attending classes and training to apply for financial aid.
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"We want to very gently help guide them, we want to be that warm handoff from foster care to college," said Sweeten. "We want these students to see the positive side of education and how it can be life-changing."
The goal of the program to empower students to succeed in college and beyond.
"Going thru and getting a degree gives me some sense of hope for stability," said McLendon."Of being able to find a job where I'm not constantly looking over my shoulder at being, you know, laid off, of being able to get an apartment where I'm not going to be evicted. Maybe even, I don't know, get a cat!"
Many of the students in the UNT summer bridge program are eligible for state tuition and fee waivers.