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Guardian Scholars Endowment Supports Former Foster Youth at UCSB

Guardian Scholar Joscelynn Murdoch

By Andrea Estrada

With the holidays only weeks away, most university students already know how they’ll be spending their winter break. For them, going home to their families and celebrating the traditions that have been a part of their lives for as long as they can remember is simply a given.

However, 55 students in this year’s freshman class at UC Santa Barbara are silently wondering what they will do — where they will go — when the residence halls close at the end of finals week. These students are former foster children, and many have no families to visit and no permanent place they can call home. In fact, for some of them, the four years they spend at UCSB will mark the longest period of time they will have lived in any one place.

So moved by this reality were UC Regent Hadi Makarechian and his wife, Barbara, they made a $100,000 contribution in 2012 and 2013 to support the work of the UCSB students and staff volunteers from departments across campus who serve as a network of resources for all 150 of the UCSB students who have aged out of the foster care system and are, quite literally, on their own. At UCSB and campuses throughout the country, these students are called Guardian Scholars.

Guardian Scholar Adeola Adeife

“We are delighted to provide a small help to this huge cause, helping bright students that have overcome adversity in their lifetime and are at a prestigious school such as UCSB,” said Hadi Makarechian.

For former foster youths Adeola Adeife, Alana Osaki and Joscelynn Murdoch, the holidays can be a reminder of how alone they are. Or would be, were it not for UCSB’s Guardian Scholars Program. Last year, in collaboration with the program, the Makarechians hosted a holiday party for the UCSB and Santa Barbara City College (SBCC) Guardian Scholars who, having no families of their own, might have received few — if any — holiday gifts. With several friends of the Makarechians serving as the students’ families for the evening, the event was a tremendous boost to the UCSB Guardian Scholars Program.

Following the overwhelming success of last year’s Guardian Scholars Holiday Party, the Makarechians  hosted a similar event on Friday, Dec. 6. It marked the beginning of a new annual tradition of bringing their friends together with the Guardian Scholars from UCSB and SBCC.

Recently, the Guardian Scholars Program at UCSB received another huge boost from a generous $500,000 challenge pledge from the Makarechians and a matching gift of $530,000 from the Conrad H. Hilton Foundation. The funds will establish an endowment for the ongoing support of staff to oversee day-to-day operations and take a more proactive approach than the volunteers are able to provide.

“Guardian Scholars are unlike any individuals I’ve met,” said Osaki, a senior who is completing a Bachelor of Science degree in aquatic biology with a minor in geography. “They have passion, they have hope and they have perseverance. They’re dedicated and determined, and they face adversity and overcome it. And that’s really important because it brings out some true character values that I haven’t seen in any other situations.”

Said Murdoch, who graduated this summer with a degree in sociology: “The most beneficial thing Guardian Scholars has given me is the opportunity to have one designated person, for example, in financial aid, who I can go to for help without having to repeat my long, drawn-out, I’m-looking-for-sympathy story. I don’t have to explain myself, which is awesome.”

For Adeife, who is majoring in global studies with a minor in applied psychology, the Guardian Scholars Program enabled her to reframe her experience with the foster care system. “Being in Guardian Scholars really helped me, even from that negativity, bring something good out of it, and be proud of who I was and who I am still. Being put into foster care was something that happened to me, but it’s not who I am. It doesn’t define me. And I can say the experiences I got from Guardian Scholars molded me into who I am now.”

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