A Talented Young Woman Enters College
Bright, capable Rosa (picture below) entered the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a long list of scholarships. So many in fact, that she was ineligible for an Education and Training Voucher due to her abundance of financial awards! This is not a random fact, but instead more reason for us to believe in and advocate for young people who have been in care like Rosa or Sheri whose story is featured here, who have great gifts and are poised to thrive but occasionally need support.
Rosa was also participating in Learn and Earn to Achieve Potential (LEAP), a youth advocacy program designed to increase employment and educational opportunities for young people who are aging out of the foster care system or who are otherwise involved in the child welfare, criminal justice, or juvenile justice systems.
Despite her stellar academic performance, talents, and distinctions, a private battle waged inside of Rosa. A trauma survivor who suffers from severe mental health issues, Rosa’s first semester of college marked a particularly difficult time. Nonetheless, thanks to her determination and connection formed with her LEAP coach, she continued to regularly meet with him and press on.
Throughout this time, Rosa continued participating in LEAP. To date, LEAP is the only program at UNL that provides support for students with foster care experience.
Finding Support in Difficult Times
Throughout Rosa’s difficult time, her coach’s expertise in the Families ThriveTM framework, and regular communication with other child welfare professionals in her life equipped him to empathize with Rosa’s hardships. Due to these skills and strategies, Rosa and her coach formed a trusting relationship that propelled Rosa to continue to attend her bimonthly sessions with him.
Although Rosa remained resilient, as the holidays drew closer, her anxieties increased. Recently, she had cut ties from her foster family, possibly a trauma-induced pattern that has repeated throughout her life. To compound Rosa’s stress, her family was visiting her birthplace: the Dominican Republic, which continued to heighten her sense of lonesomeness.
Plagued by loneliness, Rosa sank deeper into depression. Although she was a high-academic performer, she began withdrawing from others, skipping class, and missing assignments. Pretty soon, her grades plummeted from As and Bs to Ds and Fs. Rosa began to make explicit references to either self-harm or simply leaving the US and moving back to the Dominican Republic. Fighting against her mental illness, she resisted support from even her most loyal advocates. Although she was connected to other campus resources and foster youth advocacy programs such as LEAP and her coach, her mental health did not appear to improve.
Even at her lowest moment, however, Rosa continued to meet with her coach. Still willing to talk, connect, and rectify her actions, Rosa also attended meetings with her coach to provide resources ranging from scholarships and financial aid to connecting with her therapist and caseworker.
Decisions, Decisions: To Leave or to Stay Enrolled in College?
Throughout this rough period, Rosa remained in touch with those who could support her while ensuring everyone was aware of her ongoing challenges. During those meetings, those affiliated campus staff members eventually ensured that Rosa was hospitalized for her safety when she began to actively threaten to self-harm.
While Rosa was in the hospital, she continued to meet with her coach, who utilized his training to keep her spirits high and make resources available. By then, Rosa was seriously contemplating dropping out of college. Her LEAP coach conferred with other on-campus support systems and decided to take another approach altogether. He made Rosa aware of her own power and autonomy to choose, then provided her with several options so that she could feel empowered to make the right decision on her own without feeling coddled.
Her coach let her know that, regardless of whether Rosa chose to stay enrolled or leave college, that he would support her decision. Her LEAP coach’s authenticity and kindness continued to make Rosa feel supported. In addition, his and LEAP’s ongoing partnership with various on-campus resources continued to advocate for Rosa as she made her choice. Rosa said she appreciated the assistance, honesty, and empathy her coach offered her. Meanwhile, she thought over her decision.
Eventually, Rosa did make her choice: to remain in college, live her best life, and work hard to succeed. Throughout this time, she still met with her LEAP coach for support, resources, and academic performance updates. By the time the term ended, Rosa earned a 3.9 GPA – and retained her long list of scholarships!
She ultimately decided to visit the Dominican Republic to reconnect with her family. and intends to graduate from UNL. From there, she’s set her sights on a not-so-distant dream: to attend medical school and earn her MD!
An Advocacy Program and Determination Create Rosa’s New Beginning
Rosa said the following, in her own words:
“I’m a person that doesn’t really like to ask for help. I don’t even like to feel like I need help, I try to be as independent as possible and I like to believe I can do everything on my own. But it wasn’t until I got into the LEAP program when I realized that it’s not a bad thing to need help. So, I started to reach out more and made some connections with some fellow LEAP Scholars and really learned a lot. This first semester of college was one for the books for sure. It was probably one of the hardest times I’ve had but I went from having a really hard time to excelling in almost all of my classes, and a lot of my thanks goes to LEAP and the Susan Buffett Scholarship programs who worked together to help me through everything to make sure I did everything to the best of my abilities. So, thank you LEAP for this amazing opportunity, I’m glad I have a team like this one that’s got my back and is looking out for me. I would like to give a special thanks to (my LEAP coach) because if it wasn’t for him mentoring me and building me up to be stronger this semester, things would have been ten times harder.”
Life can sometimes be complex for the brightest most determined people like Rosa or Sheri, another capable CYI participant. Sometimes, all they need is support, connection, and empathy from the right people at the right time. Although Rosa’s talents and capability are very real, intelligence and strength sometimes cannot outweigh a seemingly hopeless time. Today, Rosa stands strong, participating in this exciting new chapter. Due to her own strength and willingness to hang on to the right support system, she is poised to thrive to the fullest of her potential.