17 College-Bound Foster Youth Earn Scholarships Across Riverside County

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FSA’s CEO, Cheryl-Marie Hansberger (far left) and Program Specialist, Selene Orozco (far right) are seen with the two of the scholarship awardees: Wasinee Nugsiang (inner left) and Ja’Mae Ellison (inner right).

Riverside, CA

Selene Orozco | Contributed

For the thousands of children and teenagers in the foster care system, there are many hurdles that limit their chance of graduation. In 2021 the California Department of Education reported that the statewide average high school graduation rate for students in foster care is an alarming 55% and only 10% will go onto college.

As a part of its mission to address poverty, hunger, and health disparities throughout communities in the Inland Empire, Family Service Association developed a scholarship opportunity to help graduating high school students, cared for in the foster care system, pursue a post-secondary degree. The pilot program was funded by the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians for students in Riverside County.

Seventeen students were awarded a scholarship of $1,250 to help offset the cost of attending a community college, trade school, or university. The winners shared their stories about the challenges of being in foster care and the impact that trusted adult supporters made in their lives.

One of the scholarship awardees, Lesslie Cuevas, shared the impact that her high-school counselor had on her life. “My school’s administrator was a true blessing in disguise. She made me a part of her family and helped changed my life’s trajectory for the best”.

Another scholarship winner, Lilith Barajas, shared the impact that her aunt made in her life by taking her in and supporting her since childhood. “Although being in foster care is hard mentally, my aunt manages to make me laugh… I know taking care of four children is hard, especially when two of them aren’t yours biologically. Despite all of the court and social worker visits, she still manages to stay on track and keep us happy and healthy. I don’t know how different my life would’ve been had she not made the choice to care for me, and I’m happy I don’t have to find out.”

Lesslie Cuevas (middle) celebrates this achievement with her younger sister and school guidance counselor (right).

“We are so proud of these students who overcame immeasurable barriers to graduate and pursue a college degree”, said Cheryl-Marie Hansberger, CEO of Family Service Association. “Trusted relationships and connections are the key to helping children in foster care, which requires full community involvement. Through the H.O.P.E. Collaborative, Family Service Association is proud to collaborate alongside dozens of organizations, schools, faith-based communities, and parents to improve preventative services in Riverside County.

San Manuel Band of Mission Indians Vice-Chairman Johnny Hernandez, who is also Chairman for the Tribe’s Education Board, says there is a deep commitment to education that is embedded in the Tribe’s beliefs.

“We are honored to support Family Services Association’s Fostering Hope initiative, which makes attaining a post-high school education a more achievable goal for foster youth in our community,” expressed Vice-Chairman Johnny Hernandez. “The San Manuel Band of Mission Indians truly believes that education is the key to a better future and FSA is facilitating a path to success with their Fostering Hope program.

Although the scholarship winners come from different schools and walks of life, they shared mutual gratitude and appreciation. One of the awardees, Wasinee Nugsiang, plans to attend UC San Diego in the Fall with a major in Computer Engineering. “Thank you, FSA, San Manuel, and the HOPE Collaborative for all your work in making this possible.”

In 2013 Family Service Association was appointed to lead Riverside County’s Child Abuse Prevention Council, known as the H.O.P.E Collaborative. The mission of the H.O.P.E. Collaborative is to promote the safety of children and prevent abuse and neglect in Riverside County. A range of education, outreach events, and trainings are held throughout the County by members who are passionate about securing a safe environment for all children.

Scholarship winner, Jadyn Jimenez (middle), is seen with her family and FSA Staff.

According to the Riverside County Department of Public Social Services (DPSS), approximately 4,500 children have been removed from their families because of abuse, neglect, or abandonment. If you would like to learn more about becoming a resource family for a foster child or if you are interested in volunteer opportunities with Family Service Association, you can contact the agency at 951-369-8036 or via email at Selene.Orozco@fsaca.org. Donations are being accepted to increase awareness for child abuse prevention and provide greater support for foster kids; donations can be made at https://www.fsaca.org/donate or by calling 951-686-1096.

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