In late May, a nonprofit group called Education Reach for Texans, which seeks to promote post-secondary success for former foster youth, held its fifth annual conference at Austin Community College.
For the first time, the two-day event featured a daylong gathering for former foster students to share their experiences with one another.
The individuals pictured below, all of whom successfully enrolled in higher education and either earned degrees or are on the verge of doing so, were just a few of the participants.
They shared some of their thoughts with the Tribune about transitioning to college, tuition waivers provided by the state and the value of higher education. Portions of their comments are included with each portrait.
"I’ve pushed myself more and more every day, making sure I have the education I need, because I know that without education I have nothing. I don’t have family I can reach out to. This is it for me. If I don’t succeed educationally, I have nothing." — Kasandra Robertson
"The institutionalization of foster care is so detrimental to a young person’s mind. It’s like a prison. Education is key. It is key for understanding yourself, for improving your future, for rising out of the socioeconomic status of poverty. And as we know, poverty is the key to recidivism, the key to drugs, to pain and hatred and not understanding. I chose to rise above it." — Corey Vollette
"No one told me about a tuition waiver. I didn’t know people could still get counseling after getting adopted. I didn't receive any benefits or anything. I wasn't aware of any of that. I thought once you got adopted, everything stopped. I feel kind of robbed a little." — Phelecia Biggins
"Honestly, transitioning to college wasn't too hard, because I had been on my own for so long. And I had a mentor, and I knew where all my resources were. So if I had any questions, I knew who I could go and talk to. The [other former foster youth] I’ve contacted did not know. We were in a couple foster homes together, and they both did not take advantage of the tuition waiver. It kind of makes me upset, because they threw it away. Once you’re out of the foster care system, that’s that. Unless you know your resources, unless you have someone there to help you, it’s easy to fall off the track." — Angel Romero
"I took my first class and failed, because I was trying to survive. I had a baby and nowhere to live. When I did have a place to live, there was never anything to eat. It was tuna fish and saltines on a good day. So going to school was hard." — Spring Robbins
"I struggled my first semester, and my grades reflected that. However, the endless support from the previous foster parents did ease my anxiety and made things a lot easier once I got a hold of the whole 'college thing.' ... I've always lived my life by this motto: It's better to live to a life of 'oh wells' than a life of 'what ifs.' Go to college, even if it's for a semester. Try it out, learn some new things and meet some new people. Obtaining a degree is monumental and a huge confidence and morale booster." — Elijah Sullivan