In 2014 there were over 60,000 children in foster care in California—552 of whom lived in Butte County. Last year, 85 foster care alumni and homeless youth were able to attend Chico State with the help of PATH Scholars, which stands for Promoting Achievement Through Hope Scholars.
PATH Scholars is an on-campus organization that helps foster youth begin and navigate their college careers.
All of those items are currently in place at Chico State, and the campus continues to develop them.
PATH Scholars’ primary goal is to “increase access, retention, and graduation rates for foster care alumni and unaccompanied homeless youth,” according to program coordinator Marina Fox, who defined unaccompanied homeless youth as minors in homeless families that become independents around age 16.
“Closed mouths don’t get fed.”
Since 2013, the program has been maintained by the Walter S. Johnson Foundation Implementation Grant. The grant helps ensure that the services provide an easy transition to college for foster youth, as well as a successful experience while enrolled.
PATH’s services are broken into two main categories that derive from the main challenges foster youth may face: financial and emotional support.
PATH Scholars participants have access to personalized guidance through the financial aid process, an emergency critical needs fund, and referral to other campus housing and food resources.
The recent addition of an emergency critical needs fund can be used for anything from textbooks to rent.
“Usually students have a good social network that they can tap into for financial support,” Fox said, highlighting the difference between traditional students’ resources as compared to foster care students’.
There is an application process to receive the emergency funds and it is incredibly beneficial to PATH Scholars students to prevent any setbacks on their path to graduation.
Although the financial aspect may seem most significant and overwhelming, emotional support comes first for the organization.
PATH Scholars’ participant Alizzette Balle is one who has benefited from PATH’s services.
“I didn’t have a backbone, I didn’t have connections, I didn’t know anybody, I didn’t have any resources,” Balle said. “PATH Scholars has built those bridges for me.”
Fox described how the organization’s first two years were spent establishing a strong social network for the students.
“Each program at different universities has a goal to create and cultivate that sense of community, and that’s definitely something that’s happened here,” Fox said.
The group holds monthly events that help students gain a sense of family and a network of social support, something they may not have experienced before. Students can also receive mentoring through the program, as well as referrals to counseling or other support services that meet their needs.
“We’re now seeing that we built a strong foundation … but there also needs to be that academic focus,” Fox said in regard to how the program’s focus is developing.
Getting started early is critical for PATH Scholars students, as they begin with limited resources, have no time to waste, are receiving financial aid and sometimes need to accommodate a work schedule. Legislation is in place to allow these students priority registration, which is one of the many benefits of the program.
However, these resources are only available to those willing to enroll in PATH Scholars.
“The only way we know about them is if they self identify,” Fox said.
When applying to come to Chico State, there is a question regarding foster care. Fox explains that many students will choose to not check the box in an attempt to remove themselves from the system, while compromising having their needs go unmet and potentially struggling through college.
“This is a resource that foster students should not shy away from,” Balle said. “Closed mouths don’t get fed.”
Word-of-mouth is a very powerful tool for the organization and students who don’t initially identify. There can be some negative stigma associated with students in the program, which can make people feel a sense of blame.
Some students are surprised to hear that others are PATH Scholars and foster care alumni. These reactions reflect another stereotype of this population, however, the resources provided through this organization help make the transition into college life as seamless as possible.
In order to develop the organization further and maintain the greatly established social network it has, PATH Scholars has plans for a new space in Siskiyou Hall.
It will be a place for students to hang out and connect with one another in between classes, study, attend weekly meetings, and an overall place to take ownership of, Fox said.
With the organization’s strong foundation and plans for a new center, PATH Scholars hopes to continue supporting this unique population of students.