Former foster youth, Josey, was blindsided by suddenly becoming homeless during her first year of college. Most kids her age would have given up under the pressure. But not Josey: she got a job, and then another, and another. She tirelessly worked three jobs to be able to afford a place to live—and the scholarship Volunteers of America of Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho gave her meant she could use her relentless tenacity to continue taking classes and become one of only 2% of foster youth to graduate from college. Here’s her story.
Growing up I never thought that college was an option for me. I thought I wasn’t smart enough. But when I was 19 my Independent case manager at Volunteers of America told me I could go to college for free.
I didn’t believe I would get very far in college but I also didn’t want to become the homeless failure my foster mom told me I would be. Her words still echo in my mind to this day, “Josephine you’ll never fit into society or a family because you’re a foster child.”
I decided to take my chances and go to college mostly out of crippling fear of becoming just another homeless former-foster kid.
But then, not long after I started at Spokane Falls Community College, tragedy struck my foster family and friends. A close friend of mine—and of my foster mom—died in a house fire right down the street from where we lived. Everyone was shocked and overwhelmed by the incident.
The day after the fire, I came into the kitchen to try to talk to my foster mom about the death of our friend, but she was shutdown. Instead of it bringing us closer together it had the opposite effect.
With no emotion in her voice and her back turned to me she said coldly, “I don’t care about you. I don’t care what happens to you. I don’t I care if you become homeless. I don’t love you. I just want you to leave.” I become a homeless college student that week.
It was fear of becoming another statistic that got me to try college in the first place. That same fear pushed me to stay in college and get three jobs to climb my way out of homelessness. Giving up and dropping out wasn’t an option for me because, even though my heart was broken and numb, I had a burning desire to become someone and succeed.
And I wasn’t going down without a fight.
I remember, one day when I was at Spokane Falls Community College, there was a speaker in one of my classes—a Native American professional violinist. He grew up in foster care most of his life. He told me he got through his struggles and hardships because of his hero; the person he looks up to, who truly cared about him, was there for him and supported him.
Well, I got through my struggles because Volunteers of America of Eastern Washingon and Northern Idaho‘s Independent Living case managers and SETuP staff were my heroes. I can honestly say I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for Volunteers of America of Eastern Washingon and Northern Idaho’s Trent-Gillespie scholarship and them taking me under their wing. They changed my life.
Each time I fell (and I fell several times), they were there to bandage me back up and help me get back on my feet. They believed in me when I didn’t even believe in myself. They told me I could succeed in college and in life. They had my back and taught me the skills I needed to become independent. They looked passed the stereotypes and labels. They saw me for who I am as an individual, not just as a foster youth.
Do you know what they call the youth in the program? They call us their kids. When something bad happens to one of us you should see how they react. They’re practically pulling out their hair trying to figure out a solution to help.
After I saw myself through their eyes, going to school wasn’t about fear or beating the statistics anymore.
Independent Living and SETuP helped me discover my dreams and identity. When I realized it was my dream to help other foster children and youth, it ignited a passion and love that surpassed all my fears.
I don’t think anyone’s college experience is a walk in the park. But my college experience was such a roller coaster ride. On that ride I learned that getting through college—and life—isn’t about how smart you are. It’s about how much guts you have. It’s about pushing yourself farther than you think you can go. It’s about never giving up on yourself.
I had to throw away the stereotypes of foster kids, the labels and all the negative things people said to me and just keep taking steps forward. Now I know that if I can overcome the challenges of being in foster care, I can overcome anything that comes my way.
Josey graduated from Whitworth University this May with a bachelor’s degree in Sociology—making her one of the 2% of foster youth who graduate from college. What’s next for her? She wants to pursue a master’s degree and make a career using her education and experiences to help other foster alumni. She loves to volunteer her time in the community and at her church. “My mission in life is to serve others through love, grace and passion,” Josey told us. Her future is bright and beautiful.