“College to me means stability.” Amara was working in the restaurant industry when the pandemic hit. Furloughed and then laid off from the job, she determined she wanted a more stable and sustainable source of income. Looking around at those who stayed employed during covid, she noticed they had something in common – a college degree. “I asked everyone around me – my restaurant friends, my social worker, city council members – I learned that college puts you in a much better position in terms of income and employment.”
Amara wasn’t sure about school at first either. “I was listening to everyone saying it’s a waste of time, people don’t use their degrees. But I learned education is NOT a waste of time. You get a degree and you can use it in all kinds of jobs.”
She is now pursuing an associate degree in human services, but admits she needed convincing. A persistent social worker kept reaching out and telling Amara that she had an incredible opportunity to go to college for free as a foster youth and didn’t rest until Amara enrolled in the program.* And that kind of support has continued with program staff checking in on her progress, asking if she needed help, and teachers making sure she understood the lessons. “At other places, you’re just thrown in, but this program provides consistent and personal support every step of the way.”
Equipped with the gift of gab, Amara has even found online classes to be easier than in-person classes because they are distraction-free. “I tried the one semester to see if I could do it, and found out that I liked it more.”
Amara is planning for a career in the behavioral health field, looking to help foster youth whose behavioral health needs are often overlooked. As a counselor in a crisis unit, she will be able to provide kids with the services and support they need that she didn’t have growing up.
One of the oldest in a large family, Amara is modeling educational success for her younger siblings. “Where do you plan on being in the next two years? How far do you think you’re going to get with the job you have?” She will go on to demonstrate that a college degree equips you for a career where you can make a financially stable future for yourself.
*The Chafee ETG grant and Pennsylvania’s tuition waiver program offer former and current foster youth aging out of care the opportunity to attend college without incurring debt for tuition related expenses.