By Ashley Bautista
Looking for assistance with the college experience at COC?
Resources for Individual Success in Education is a new program at College of the Canyons that has partnered with Fostering Youth Independence, a company intended to help support foster youth, and The Assistance League, a nonprofit organization providing accessibility and fulfillment of community needs at the local level. It is designed to help students enrolled in the program with activities or guidance not otherwise covered by COC.
“Our mission is to equip foster youth to complete post-secondary education and become successful, independent adults,” according to FYI’s manifesto.
RISE was created by COC guidance counselor Dora Lozano in 2017. Before the birth of RISE she counseled students involved in the Extended Opportunities Programs and Services for five years.
She was asked by the district to take over the homeless youth population while already being the liaison for the foster youth program, combining both populations into one program.
“I wanted something positive to identify them,” said Lozano. “That way they don’t have to identify as foster youth or homeless youth they can just say I’m a RISE student, or I’m participating in the RISE program; it’s a more positive word.”
The first year the foster youth program was at COC was in 2006, and it wasn’t until 10 years later the homeless population was incorporated into the program.
The Success for Homeless Youth in Higher Education Act was passed by Governor Brown in 2016 that states California State University and community college districts allocate priority higher learning opportunities to foster youth and homeless students.
With the collaboration of FYI, students also have assisted guidance through the steps in participating in the program. FYI offers potential students their own individual “ally” who primarily focuses on what actions need to be taken in order for them to obtain success at COC.
AL provides students with opportunities for public transportation; and give them caddies filled with toiletries.
This includes resources, encouragement and continuous support throughout their journey in achieving a higher education. One of the most intriguing facts about the RISE program, is teaching students about budgeting.
There are two seminars a semester that either students who are enrolled or will be enrolling can attend to receive information about the program.
Some topics that are covered in the special events include: learning how to not fall into a financial hole, the benefits of enrolling in a community college for the first couple of years in higher education as opposed to a Cal State, managing your financial aid, and resources at COC that help supplement college funds.
To be apart of the program you have to be under the age of 25, and have to have been homeless within two years of applying; and for the foster youth they have to have been in the foster care system after the age of 16 while being under 25.
Forms of verification for foster youth include Ward of the Court or Dependency letter on official county letterhead from the student’s county-of-origin, County Foster care verification card, as well as a letter from Lozano confirming she has met with a student.
Lozano has a survey for her personal use that she gives students in their first meeting, the survey helps her have clear understanding of the students current living situation.
Verification for homeless youth include a homeless services provider, the director of a federal TRIO program or Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs program or a designee of that director, and a financial aid administrator for an institution of higher education.
Once qualified by the state students must go through orientation, make an ed-plan, complete a survey, maintain a minimum 2.0, and will have progress report every semester which gets filled out mid semester.
Lozano currently has an orientation set up for new students to help with the comfortability of being new to the experience and campus.
“I’m thinking of switching it up next year to more of a welcome day, where we can take the students on a little tour around campus and show them the important buildings,” said Lozano.
Lozano also explained the importance of community within the populations.
“The energy in the room when they get to be together is awesome because they don’t feel alone.”
During orientation this past year Lozano had the students write down their favorite positive college memory and post it on the front board in the class.
Lozano has plans to add more activities as she becomes more accustomed to her students and what will help them become successful in the program.
There were 40 foster youth and 10 homeless youth enrolled at the start of the program’s inaugural year.
Of those 50 students combined, five are graduating this spring; and within those five, three students are transferring.
One of the students transferring is scheduled to go to UC Irvine; that student eventually hopes to become a FBI agent.
“The benefit of my job is seeing my kids do well and thrive,” said Lozano.
A student at COC, although she is not enrolled in the program, said that she was in foster care growing up as well as briefly being homeless.
“Having that program at a college would have been extremely encouraging to me back when I had just graduated high school,” the student said.
She explained that she never saw it as an option because she never thought she would be able to afford it.
The student went on to explain that when you grow up in the foster care system, education is seen as a privilege and not something that is guaranteed. She felt the program was very impactful to kids who are currently in foster care or homeless.
“To know that there is someone who is not only willing to help me be successful; but will help guide me speaks volumes to children who typically don’t have that type of security,” she said.
More information on the RISE program is available on the COC website.