Adjusting to college and maintaining a positive, motivated attitude throughout can be difficult. Being away from home and being placed in an unfamiliar environment presents new challenges, some easier to resolve than others. Some students were in foster care before attending UConn, thus giving them no place to stay over the month-long winter break.
This was one of the many situations that prompted Liz Dunn, a first-semester UConn student and former foster child, and Alexandra Katz, coordinator of the First Star Academy Program, to begin to build an organization that will aid foster students in integrating themselves into the UConn family successfully. Whether it be finding somewhere to stay over winter break, learning about resources around campus or talking to a friend that is in the same situation, Dunn and Katz want to ensure these opportunities are available to all students who may not have a strong support system.
While change can bring loneliness, there are always other students who are in a similar situation. Showcasing this is Dunn’s mission. She said, “Being able to help kids navigate… Being able to create an environment where we can focus on life skills, just [being] able to talk without judgment about what’s going on…” are all features she plans to incorporate in the program.
Even during the hardest times, it’s imperative to remember that there are people who care and want you to succeed, you just have to reach out to them. We all have moments where giving up seems the easiest option, but the right resources are going to place things into perspective and motivate students to continue working for their dreams.
In addition to learning how to best navigate personal struggles, Dunn and Katz want to ensure that students learn simple life skills as well. For example: Navigating financial struggles, money management, credit, co-signing an apartment, nutrition and learning how to cook. Monthly workshops would expand on these lessons, providing a place with mentors to teach, as well as a bonding experience with peers. Not only will these skills help immensely with surviving college, but they are also transferable and can be carried and applied throughout all stages of life.
However, more than anything, becoming part of the organization will build a family of people who have a major aspect of their lives in common. It can be hard to find people who understand exactly what you’re going through since not many people are exposed to the foster care system. Being part of this program will create a loving family of similar-minded people who can get answers, find resources and build close connections that will produce long-lasting relationships.
This organization isn’t restricted to only students who were formally or are currently in foster care, but also students who are labeled as “Independent” on the FAFSA, have dealt with trauma and abuse or are even estranged from their parents.
If interested, contact student president Elizabeth Dunn at firstname.lastname@example.org or advisor Alexandra Katz, coordinator of First Star Academy, a program that works with highschool foster students in Connecticut, at email@example.com.
Jordana Castelli is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.