A Closer Look at College Support Initiatives for Foster Youth in New York

Partner With Students Every Step of the Way

A Spotlight on HeartShare St. Vincent’s Services

At HeartShare St. Vincent’s Services, the American Dream Program is a privately funded scholarship and coaching program that offers students financial assistance, counseling, academic and emotional support and career preparation throughout their college experience so that they enroll, persist and succeed. Currently, 51 college scholars participate in the program, and 37% of the agency’s college-age students are enrolled in college. (The total number of scholars includes youth who have aged out of care.)

“We begin partnering with our students the moment they start applying for college and, once they enroll, we are with them every step of the way,” said Lauren Lee Pettiette Schewel, the Senior Director of Education at HSVS.

A major component of the program is a structured check-in model where students meet monthly with coaches who touch on all aspects of college life, including well-being and mental health services, managing course load, financial need, recreation and socialization and career preparation.

Recognizing that college support doesn’t begin on the first day on campus, HSVS also began a new program this January, the Pathways to College program, which serves its high school students. “Our high school students will have workshops based on a curriculum that we’ve developed to ensure that we are hitting all of the gaps and the skills that we think that they need in order to be a successful college student.” With Pathways to College, HSVS hopes to reach young people who may never have considered college as an option for them.

The agency hopes to have 100 students enrolled in the American Dream program by 2020, as well as develop an alumni program, increase the financial stipend provided to students, hire more College Coaches and create the American Dream Academy, which will serve as a student center and hub for training, studying and socialization among the students.

“I think what’s really important,” said Pettiette Schewel, “is that the youth in our care are first and foremost seen as
college students.”

Learn more about the American Dream program. Meet the scholars.


Stick With Youth Beyond the Bounds of Care

A Spotlight on Graham Windham
Written by Bonnie Kornberg, Chief Performance Officer

Graham Windham created the Graham SLAM program in 2014 to help youth navigate the difficult transition to adulthood and defy the odds facing young adults who have been in foster care. We knew anecdotally that too many of our youth were struggling after the foster care system stopped providing support at 21. We also knew what the research said about the likelihood of terrible outcomes for young adults who have been in foster care, especially for those who have aged out, with only 3 to 6% graduating college by 26 years old. Knowing this, we were driven to develop more supportive programming.

With Graham SLAM, we proactively seek to engage all of the youth 16+ in our foster care program by connecting them with a professional coach to stick with them until they’re 25. Through these relationships, we have been able to help youth stay on track or get back on track toward high school and post-secondary success, obtain employment and find stable housing. We have seen high school graduation rates go up from roughly 50% of seniors to nearly all youth who reach their senior year, and we support high school progress, including attending school, finding the right school, passing Regents, all beyond the time limitation of the foster care system.

Young people may take longer than four years in high school to graduate, and as we’ve stuck by them through rough patches and periods of self-doubt, we’ve helped them stay focused on their goals. With this ongoing relationship, we’ve helped 93% of our seniors in our program 2 years or more graduate high school, and we’ve seen 86% of our college students stay in school from one semester to the next. We are still building Graham SLAM and have reached only about 300 of the 1,000 youth we plan to help.

As we aim to help every young person enter a living wage career path by 25, the critical success factors include: developing trusting relationships, believing unconditionally in young people, helping youth meet their emotional and financial needs (for example, through mental health treatment, stable housing, buying books, developing skills and finding employment), connecting youth with positive peer groups, and helping young people articulate and follow their goals and learn to problem solve on their own.

Learn more about Graham SLAM.

For more college support programs in New York, please also see: 

Strategies to Make College a Reality for More Foster Youth in New York

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