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Foster the futures of youth most in need

Oct - 2 - 2014
Courtney Hurtt

Jasmine Uqdah is an impressive young woman.

The 24 year old is getting an associate’s degree in liberal arts from Oakland Community College, and she plans to pursue a degree in social work after that.

She works three jobs, in addition to going to school, and volunteers as much as she can.

But Uqdah’s accomplishments and ambition are even more admirable when her past is revealed: The Hamtramck resident spent most of her formative years — from 7-19 — in foster care.

She remembers the anxiety of getting the three-month notice that she’d have to move out of her foster home and into independence.

“You don’t know where you’re going to go or what you’re going to do,” Uqdah says.

Uqdah is able to afford the college costs because of the nonprofit Charitable Tuition Program, coordinated by the state and supported through donations. When the 13,000 children in the state’s foster care system age out at 18, they don’t magically have the ability to support or care for themselves.

After Uqdah found out about the tuition assistance program, it seemed too good to be true. “This scholarship is a huge blessing to me,” she says.

The program covers her tuition and books — costs she says she had no way of covering on her own.

The Michigan Education Trust, which runs the Charitable Tuition Program, held a fundraiser Thursday night in Rochester in conjunction with the the Michigan Departments of Treasury and Human Services to help young adults like Uqdah who grew up in the foster system attend college.

“They don’t have the same support other kids do,” says Bob Wheaton, spokesman for the state Department of Human Services.

Nationally, it’s rare for young people raised in foster care to earn a college degree.

Only 3 percent get a college diploma. Compare that with 40 percent of young adults overall who received a two- or four-year college degree in 2012, according to a recent report from the Lumina Foundation.

The Charitable Tuition Program raised $187,000 in 2013, which allowed around 400 students to attend schools in Michigan. The largest number, 160, went to Western Michigan University. Eighty enrolled at Michigan State University.

Eleven Michigan colleges and universities have programs to assist former foster care youth.

Department of Human Services Director Maura Corrigan, along with Gov. Rick Snyder and lawmakers, have created several other programs to guide young people and offer assistance as they age out of the foster system.

The teen years are a challenging time for most young people — even those with loving parents who can offer financial assistance and stability. For youth without that kind of built-in safety net, graduating from high school and state assistance can be especially frightening.

To help, the state’s Young Adult Voluntary Foster Care program offers assistance to foster youth between the ages of 18 and 21. More than 340 young people are participating and 1,000 have benefited since the program took effect in 2012.

According to the state, many of the 800 youths in foster care who turn 18 each year lose the only reliable support they know when funding for their care ends. Some even become homeless.

So this program offers a range of benefits to help them get on their feet, including the extension of foster care payments, continued oversight by a caseworker and counseling.

The tuition scholarships are integral, too. A good education is the best way for any young person to prepare for the future.

Uqdah plans to use her degrees to help others. That’s a priceless investment.

“I’m very grateful,” she says.

Ingrid Jacques is deputy editorial page editor of The Detroit News.

ijacques@detroitnews.com

@Ingrid_Jacques

How to help

You can donate to the Michigan Education Trust’s Charitable Tuition Program by visiting www.fosteringfutures-mi.com. All contributions to the program are eligible for a state income tax deduction.

 

This story was originally published in The Detroit News on Sept. 25, 2014.

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