Wherever they happen to be on California State University’s 23 campuses, current or former foster youth have 24/7 access to a wide range of support programs to assist them with college life.

Whether it is assistance with admissions or financial aid, or housing, or orientation, or course counseling, or even career planning, each campus provides a full staff dedicated to helping these special students achieve success in the classrooms and beyond.

The special foster youth programs are labeled differently by the various campuses:

  • Guardian Scholars at Bakersfield, Fullerton, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose State and Sacramento;
  • PATH Scholars at Channel Islands and Chico;
  • Toro Scholars at Dominguez Hills;
  • Renaissance Scholars at East Bay, Fresno and Cal Poly Pomona;
  • Elite Scholars at Humboldt State;
  • EOP Scholars at Long Beach, Los Angeles, San Luis Obispo and Sonoma campuses;
  • COMPASS Scholars at Monterey Bay;
  • Resilient Scholars at Northridge;
  • Promise Scholars at Stanislaus State,
  • ACE Scholars at San Marcos
  • And, there’s the CSU San Bernardino Foster Youth.

While the program names may be different, the invaluable benefits to the students they serve remain constant and life-changing. Those benefits cannot be described any better than by two former CSU foster youth students who are now highly successful in their respective careers, dedicated to helping people overcome the same obstacles that they faced during their early years. Warning: have a box of tissue handy as their stories are both heartbreaking and heartwarming.

PA: How did you become a foster youth?

SG: My journey was filled with many years of abuse, tears and pain. I always wondered if I would ever run out of tears. I developed low levels of self-worth, feelings of loneliness, being unloved, unprotected, hopeless and powerless. The cycle of abuse always felt never-ending, and although I was placed in foster care as an older youth, the trauma of the abuse impacted my life in so many ways.

I was 17 and in high school when placed into foster care, and my biggest challenge was experiencing the pain, confusion and anger of being separated from my family and constantly questioning my self-worth. However, what kept me alive and moving forward was the responsibility I felt for my younger siblings.”

PA: How did you find and enter college?

SG: College was always in my plans, but not for the right reasons. For me, it was my ticket out of my home and away from the abuse. I figured I could go away and live on campus. But as I was preparing to apply to college, the thought of attending a university quickly disappeared. After being placed in foster care, the fear of the uncertainty of what would happen to my siblings and me in the foster care system was terrifying.

Fortunately, one of the foster mothers I lived with was the assistant principal of my high school. She provided me with the love, support and encouragement that I needed to get through that difficult time in my life, including the stability of not having to transfer schools, to graduate on time and still apply and be eligible for college admission. I only applied to one university, and was accepted to Cal Poly Pomona. At the time, however, there was no foster youth support program, making my transition to college very difficult.

When the Renaissance Scholars program was established in 2002, I was invited to participate and it completely changed my college experience. It gave me the tools I needed to succeed academically, and it opened up new opportunities to meet other students with similar backgrounds. Two years later, I was the first female graduate of the program and I will always be thankful for the experience.

PA: Now that you are fulfilling your dream of helping people who are on the same path that you took in your youth, what gives you the most satisfaction?

SG: One of the best parts of my job is getting to know each student and witnessing their amazing resiliency and transformation as they become empowered through their journey as college students. It’s an honor to share with them moments of joy, sadness, struggle, healing, happiness and success – especially when they make it to graduation and walk across the stage. One by one, we are changing the statistics!

As the coordinator for the CSU Fresno Renaissance Scholars Program, Kizzy maintains an active agenda advocating and examining the needs of current and former foster youth in higher education. She sits on multiple committees and advisory boards in the fields of child welfare and higher education locally and statewide. Kizzy holds a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies, a master’s in educational counseling and is on the verge of receiving her doctoral degree in higher education leadership at Azusa Pacific University.

PA: Please tell our readers how you landed in foster care.

KL: In my story there are no heroes and no villains, just people trying desperately to survive in the world. I hesitate to answer this question because I love my parents dearly and don’t want them to be thought of as villains. They, like many parents of children who go into foster care, struggled with many internal battles. I know they wanted a better life for me and my sisters and often fell short of providing the things we needed to achieve it.

We were placed in foster care when I was 11. About a year later, I was able to reunite with my Dad but his struggles returned, and I went to live with my biological aunt, my twin sister, youngest sister and two cousins. My best and worst memories of that time in my life occurred on my 13th birthday. After one of the best birthdays I ever had – a slumber party at my aunt’s house – a social worker showed up to take us to a new foster home. I awoke to shock and disbelief. I was numb. Another loss, another move.

The social worker took each of us to separate homes. I felt so helpless. I knew I had no say in the matter. Quietly, painfully, I accepted my fate. I already lost my parents, now I was losing my sisters. The pain was too much to bear. I already struggled with selective mutism and it got much worse. I could barely sleep, I refused to eat and I cried to a point of exhaustion. At one point, the trauma was so bad that I began to hallucinate, putting myself in serious danger because I no longer had a grasp on reality. But my foster mother called the social worker and arranged for me to visit with my sisters. I can’t tell you happy I was to see them – they were the only bit of comfort and stability I had as a child. Taking them away from me was cruel.

PA: What were your school years like?

KL: Academically, I did fine; socially, not so fine. In addition to being a selective mute, I suffered from social anxiety and depression. Making friends and having true connections were difficult. I never trusted people, which has been a huge barrier in my personal life as an adult. I have worked through a lot of this in therapy but it hasn’t been an easy road.

PA: Did you even consider college?

KL: I knew I wanted a degree because it is the key to a better life, but attending a university was not an option at the time. Instead, I started community college, but it took me three months to get any financial aid because of my lack of parental status. During that time, I was essentially homeless, resorting to “couch surfing”, stealing food and toiletries, and sometimes cleaning up at the Taco Bell across from the school.

PA: How did you become the person you are today?

KL: I credit my faith in God, my family and my Renaissance Scholars. They make me want to be a better person. Both my children and students motivate me to be a role model of what it looks like to live a life of love, healing, compassion, forgiveness, service, hard work and success. I am now able to try to give my students the support and guidance I wish I had when I was their age. This brings me so much healing and fulfillment. I feel uniquely blessed to serve such an amazing group of young men and women who courageously chase their dreams despite their circumstances and obstacles. It’s a great life!

For more information about CSU’s Foster Youth Programs, visit the website at www.calstate.edu and scroll through the varied services, ranging from financial aid, tutoring, orientation, counseling and student academic support to eligibility requirements, individual campus contacts and on-campus housing assistance and more.