CSULB Guardian Scholars program empowers foster youth to reach their goals
After a long road to community college, Leslie Loftis’ transition to a four-year university was a “culture shock.” She explored another CSU campus closer to home but didn’t feel she would fit in.
“The Guardian Scholars orientation sold me on Long Beach,” said the fourth-year sociology major. “Meeting students who were just coming out of foster care and older students like me — people who have been through what I’ve been through — made me feel like I could settle in here. I didn’t feel invisible.
“The program does give you a family feeling,” Loftis added. “That sense of community is really important — it’s been the most powerful thing for me.”
Cal State Long Beach’s Guardian Scholars program helps current and former foster youth pursue and reach their educational goals through academic counseling, financial aid advising, tutoring, mentorship and skills assessment. Counselors also connect students to on-campus resources and services that ensure support during their time at The Beach, as well as college retention and graduation.
The program continues the mission of The Beach’s No Barriers campaign to create a national model for student achievement, empowerment and equity.
When fellow sociology major Georgette Shobeiri came out of the foster care system, help was not readily available. Although similar programs are now more common, as foster youth “it can be hard to believe that somebody has your best interest at heart. You’re constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop,” she said.
“It’s hard enough being a foster kid — but when you find that commonality and you have somebody that has that true understanding of what it’s like to go into the system, it makes you feel more comfortable,” added the third-year student, who was once a court-appointed special advocate for foster youth and hopes to work with them or older adults after graduation.
Among the resources Loftis found helpful through the program were internship opportunities, including one that grew into a permanent position.
“All the internships I’ve had have been in line with my end goal,” said Loftis, who hopes to one day become an educator at a community college or work with a program like Guardian Scholars.
Indeed, the Guardian Scholars program complements a Beach education as a tool for personal empowerment as it removes barriers to student achievement, opens doors to personal and professional growth, and boosts opportunities for career success and social mobility.
“Most of the kids that come in are really young. They need that guidance — and to know that they need to self-advocate and take advantage of resources,” said Shobeiri, a Guardian Scholars Ambassador and the president of Fostering Futures, a student-run organization that offers support and fellowship to foster youth.
“Sometimes you need a person to hold your hand,” she added. “In whatever way I can support Guardian Scholars and advocate for them, I’m on board.”