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New program provides help and hope for foster children

Danielle Capios, Larry Jackson and Katelyn Jackson know what it’s like to be bounced from home to home. But they aren’t ordinary foster children, who often lack the resources to pursue higher education.

Capios wants to serve her country as an FBI agent. Larry Jackson plans a career in heating and air conditioning. Katelyn Jackson is working to become a psychiatrist.

The three Tidewater Community College students are part of the Virginia Community College’s Great Expectations program that works to ensure foster children don’t become another statistic. “During my time here, I’ve learned that hard work gets you places in life,” says Larry Jackson. “And my coach is there to help with everything from supplies to strategies on how to get to class on time.”

Foster children in Virginia age out of the system at 18, unless they are enrolled in higher education. According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, for every 100 young people who age out of the system only six will graduate college.

“This program represents our sweet spot,” says Glenn DuBois, chancellor of Virginia Community Colleges. “It’s our job to help those in the margins get into the mainstream with career skills and job prospects. If we don’t intervene, 94 percent of foster children won’t get the higher education necessary to escape poverty.”

Felicia Ford, TCC’s career coach for Great Expectations, adds, “Most people need to understand where these students are coming from. We use a wrap-around approach to save them. We address the basic needs of food and shelter and emotional needs and work on academic and career planning. We also ensure they have a support system in place.”

Great Expectations programs are offered by 17 of the 23 community colleges in the Virginia system, with plans to include all colleges soon. Since the program began in 2008, more than 1,200 youth, ages 17-24, have been served. TCC’s program, in its third year, serves about 100 students annually.

“Ms. Ford has been my safety net. If I need a book, she helps me get it. When I needed to learn to study, she was there with tips that I could put into practice the next day,” says Katelyn Jackson. “I’m proud of how far I’ve come. I’ve been on the dean’s list and know how to be successful.”

Great Expectations Program Director Anne Holton, former First Lady of Virginia, visited TCC to raise awareness for the program in May. “Everybody needs a family at this crucial time in life, and we are here to provide that support,” she says. “These students have already endured difficult circumstances, and it’s our mission to ensure that they overcome and become successful adults who can provide for families of their own.”

The “Building the Bond” tour stop at TCC featured greetings from Daniel DeMarte, vice president of student learning, as well as remarks from DuBois. The tour was sponsored by the Virginia 529 College Savings Plan and spotlights National Foster Care month.