A half-dozen college freshmen who grew up in foster care in Calaveras County could get a little more care and support this year if a campaign envisioned by a Valley Springs woman takes off as planned.
Karen Pekarcik, who has extensive experience working with youth as the executive director of First 5 Calaveras, is recruiting at least five county residents who want to join her in sponsoring a student.
“Since family relationships have been challenged and (they) are moving out of foster care, they are likely to face this exciting time without the support many of their college peers will have, setting up a dorm room or apartment, receiving care packages to get through the challenging times, and notes of encouragement as they adjust to college on this journey to becoming independent, capable and educated adults,” Pekarcik said.
Pekarcik said she became interested in the college experience for former foster children after sending her own children off to post-secondary studies and finding their school did not have anything in place to give such support to students without a typical family back home.
“While they might get some (financial) support to live in the dorms, they don’t get any of the other support you get to go off to college,” she said. “It’s not enough to cover the realities of living and the experience of being a college student. These are kids you really want to let them know, yes, things have been tough but you made it. You’re in college now.”
Pekarcik said she has gotten some preliminary interest from five or six people and the Arnold Rotary Club for the effort. Due to continuing confidentiality regulations that continue after the students turn 18, she said she does not yet know exactly who the freshmen are.
Alisa Gehrke, who runs the Independent Living Program for the Calaveras Works and Human Services Agency, will be coordinating the delivery of desired items such as plastic bins filled with school supplies and study snacks, laundry bags or baskets with bedding, towels, laundry and shower supplies, kitchen garbage pails filled with microwavable bowls and cups, foods, snacks, coffee, tea and hot chocolate, utensils, paper towels, wipes, dish scrubber and soaps; backpacks filled with college supplies like a graphing calculator, batteries, paper, folders, pens, highlighters and desk supplies; laptop computers and simple notes of encouragement and mid-term and finals care packages.
Gehrke said three are destined for Columbia College this fall, two to San Joaquin Delta College and the other is entering a program for massage therapy certification.
This is the first time a program like this has been launched in Calaveras, she said.
Traditionally, there has been a great deal of community support for foster children, with quilts and other items. But that stops after aging out of care, Gehrke said.
She said a new state law, about one year old, could help the situation by allowing young people to stay with their foster families until age 21.
Almost all of the students who will benefit from this program are going into housing affiliated with their colleges, Gehrke said.
Pekarcik said individuals, businesses, churches and service organizations are all welcomed to join in the project. Those participating will be provided with a student’s first name, favorite colors, college and major.