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Only less than 3% of Foster Youth will ever GRADUATE COLLEGE.

Alarming right? Well it’s that very statistic that has motivated me to wake up and keep going every morning. Especially during midterms and finals week.

So I spent 4 days with youth from all over Oregon who were in the same boat I once was. Still in high-school contemplating if they too would ever even attend college.

You might hesitate because your parents probably didn’t. You might not get too excited because someone somewhere has probably shot your dreams down and it was probably someone whose opinion mattered to you. Maybe you don’t get your hopes up because you have no idea how you would ever pay for it. I mean what makes you think you could afford becoming a fully independent adult and attending college at the same time? Or perhaps you just never really get into it because you don’t know the first step you should take. By the time these thoughts run through your head your self-esteem is probably low and you just decide there is no way you would make it.

Unfortunate right? Well the goal of ASPIRE was to reverse these very thoughts. Aspire is put together to assist disadvantaged students. Students that are low-income, have disabilities, first-generation students, and those who are in anyway in need of assistance. It just so happens foster youth fall into this category. Aspire works to connect these students with support through college. They offer mentoring, more educational counseling time, priority registration, special scholarships, fee-waivers, book vouchers and things of that nature.

Often times you pick up the values of your parents or those who raised you. For instance, if your parents have values you’re more likely to mirror them yourself. When your parents push the importance of education at a early age you’re more likely to take that value on as your own. If you take a foster youth and look at their values you’d be surprised. Often times they are never raised with family values. They have other things to worry about like being safe or when/where they’ll eat their next meal. Some youth are fortunate to gain their parents values. Others may gain them and then enter care and get swept away by life. Others while in care are raised with values and then mirror the class or culture of the various families they are exposed to. Many foster parents aren’t college graduates so who tells these youth that college is important? Sometimes these youth slip through the cracks and never find the value of education...

Then you also have first generation college students. This is a trend among many, foster youth especially. Students who are first in their family to attend college usually struggle. There are many barriers that you’ll have to face. Finances and college culture. So how do you pay for college? Who do you turn to when you need help looking into and applying to colleges? How are you supposed to react when you do get an acceptance letter? How do you balance the needs of your family and your own needs to attend college? How do you get around campus? How do you pick and register for classes? Who do you really turn to for advice when no-one in your own family can relate? These are just some of the questions we thought of..

Well 4 days of packed information sessions, workshops, meals and structured free-time hopefully planted seeds in the minds of these young people. Western Oregon University hosted their facilities to the Oregon Aspire Conference. The main themes were to Dream and Aspire.

During their stay they were placed in dorm style living to get a taste of the college experience. We were split into groups for the week and I was leading U of O. By the way, U of O was the best team ever! It was nice to get these youth hyped up about a specific college. We played college themed Pictionary to start them off. Later we split off into door floors and had to create dorm floor themes and then decorate. My floor went with Alice & Wonderland but somehow the sign came out as Alison & Wonderland.. Yeah I don’t know about that either. Anyway it was nice to see these young people really get into it.

The next few days were full of workshops. We had a day of Dreaming. Each youth made up a cover story which was basically what their life story would look like on the cover page of a magazine or newspaper. Something that’s interesting is foster youth never get the chance to really dream. I would say that about ALL underprivileged youth. We are expected to grow up fast. We are expected to survive through the dark days of our childhoods. We are expected to not dream because it is silly. Sometimes we are so busy trying to stay safe that we don’t ever dream. I can honestly say that I don’t remember dreaming as a child until a few years into foster care. We never really get the chance until someone allows us. This was their day to dream and we were along for the ride. It was amazing to hear the aspirations, ambitions and goals these strong young people had. It was powerful to see what they had to say. Especially when they said they needed supportive people. One of the 16 year old girls said something I will always remember.

“If you can accomplish your dreams by yourself then your dreams aren’t big enough.”

It was true. Anyone can relate to this. We need the support of others to really accomplish our dreams.

It was bittersweet to leave because I grew close to my youth. I know how strong they are though and I'm confident that they will continue to dream and aspire to those dreams.

Aug 22, 2011 By Paule