Last year, it looked unclear if Keilia Scott would be able to complete the cosmetology program she began at Wake Tech Community College in Raleigh. A foster child since the age of 15, Scott struggled in her teen years without family support.
She moved to nine different homes and each transition meant adaptation to a new family, new rules and a new school. Scott admits she was rebellious and ran away from several homes. The system eventually placed her in a locked facility out-of-state.
After her release, Scott headed to Wake Tech Community College to begin her education. But without family support and life skills, the transition to higher learning was difficult.
"I was going through problems with certain people in my life outside of school," she said. "I couldn't concentrate in the classroom. It was just very, very difficult. Every day was a struggle.”
A Life-Changing Bus Ride
Last year, Scott’s life path turned in a different direction as the result of conversation she overhead on a bus. A fellow student who had also been in foster care told Scott about a special program at Wake Tech Community College designed specifically to help foster kids succeed in higher learning. She headed straight for the offices of the Fostering Bright Futures program.
"Right after class I had someone finally to go…talk to," Scott said. "It made me feel good because I had people that I knew that were on my side…and that stayed on me to make sure that I was focused and I could concentrate on my schoolwork."
Hardships For Those Who "Age Out"
Keilia Scott's story is not unique. Youth who age out of the foster care system face significant obstacles. Less than 15 percent of college-age youth emerging from foster care enroll in postsecondary education. Later in life, many former foster care children find it difficult to earn the minimum wage. But the Fostering Bright Futures Program helps young adults earn a degree, and learn life skills to combat some of their situational challenges.
Michelle Blackmon, program coordinator for Fostering Bright Futures, says her staff looks closely at the specific needs of each student and asks questions: Do they know how to apply for loans? Do they know how much money they need? Does the student just need a hug? Blackmon and her staff earn the trust of each young person in the program.
"They have to have that trust," Blackmon said. "They have to know that when you say you're going to do something, you're going to follow through with it."
Tamesha Pittman's Story
Tamesha Pittman, another participant in the Fostering Bright Futures program, is the eldest of ten children. Pittman started at another community college when she was 21 years old. But without support, she was unable to complete her studies. While she was able to obtain loans for school, it did not occur to her to make sure that she had applied for enough money to cover housing.
"If you ask the right questions they will give you the answers. But if you don't ask, they won't tell you," she says of the traditional college programs.
With the assistance of Fostering Bright Futures, Pittman plans to complete an associate degree at Wake Tech Community College and then transfer to a four-year college to major in Mass Communications.
Pittman is emotional when she considers her journey and her influence on her nine younger siblings.
"I have to do what I do to show them that although we came from nothing, we can be better,” she said.