Stephani Galvez stood in front of the group, confidently and boldly, and spoke about the club’s upcoming events. In a month, she would be a key speaker at a citywide educational conference on foster youth. By May, she will lead the club’s efforts for a foster care youth awareness day at Cal State Long Beach.
Here was a woman who once could not speak up for herself now speaking up for others. It’s easy when the subject matter is close to your heart.
Galvez spent nearly three years in foster care after the courts ordered she and her sisters to be removed from an abusive situation at home. After staying silent for 10 years, Galvez eventually spoke to her high school counselor, putting her on a path that would lead her to the Guardian Scholars program and the Fostering Futures Student Organization.
But there was a time when Galvez couldn’t see past the hurt of having to leave her home and move into a foster care facility. It led to months of depression and low self-worth.
“When I was younger, I didn’t see a future. I didn’t think about a future. I was just living,” she said. “Now, I have dreams.”
Through court trials, errors and the help from a few guardian angels, Galvez is on track to graduate from Cal State Long Beach with a B.S. degree in sociology and minor in political science. She also will leave with a legal studies certificate with an eye on law school.
“It’s so reaffirming to me because I can walk in there and they know what’s going on with me and they can help me,” she said of other students who were in the Guardian Scholars program. “You can talk about anything there because they understand. Everyone has gone through something.”
According to National Foster Youth Institute, roughly half of foster youth fail to earn a high school diploma or a GED, while only 55% of those who do graduate from high school will attend college. Of those, only 3% will finish a four-year college.
With programs such as Guardian Scholars, foster care youth have a better chance at succeeding. The program not only offers students who spent time in foster care a safe space, but scholarship opportunities, counseling and therapy, financial aid advice, tutor and mentorship.
Guardian Scholars gave Galvez the type of support she didn’t have at home. It also helped her find the courage to stand up and tell her story.
“Once I found my voice, I just do not want to stop using it,” Galvez said. “I realize a lot of people find themselves in certain situations and when they hear someone being vocal about it, they then see the fact there are abusive homes, that there are imperfect parents or that you may live a certain way.”
Despite the upheaval in her life – two foster homes, three high schools – Galvez never lost sight of going to college. After high school, she enrolled at East Los Angeles College, where she learned about a foster youth educational support group that provides students with resources and tools need to succeed. When she decided to transfer to Cal State Long Beach, her academic adviser told her about Guardian Scholars.
In the program, Galvez found more than just scholarship opportunities and academic tutoring. She found her passion and direction.
“I have this background and just because I come from where I come from and all that stuff, it doesn’t mean I can’t achieve, that I can’t build a better future for myself,” she said.
“But I don’t want to build that future just for myself but to help others to realize that they have the potential, that it doesn’t stop at your childhood, it doesn’t stop at your trauma. You have to go forward because you can’t change your past.”
To help former foster care students complete their education, consider giving to Guardian Scholars. Click here to give to the program.