Raleigh, N.C. — It's the time of year when high school seniors are graduating, and many are getting ready to tackle college.
But for young adults leaving the foster care system, the rite of passage can be a challenge.
Nationwide, fewer than 10 percent of foster children enroll in college or a secondary school. Of those, only 2 percent graduate, according to Fostering Bright Futures.
The nonprofit is a public-private partnership at Wake Technical Community College in Raleigh that works with the community to get more teens coming out of the foster system into college and graduating.
Started in 2008 by a local architect, Fostering Bright Futures enrolls five young adults a year and helps them work through their individual challenges of life after foster care – whether it be academics, finances, planning or something else.
The program relies heavily on business and individual donations to provide the help students need.
One of its biggest roles, says program coordinator Michele Blackmon, is helping young adults find transportation and housing.
Another part of the program is finding each student a mentor who helps with everything from developing a budget to developing life skills needed to live as an independent adult and getting the education needed to gain meaningful work.
Veronica Armstrong recently graduated from Wake Tech with a degree in criminal justice, making her the first to successfully complete Fostering Bright Futures – and the first of 12 siblings to graduate from high school and college.
Armstrong was placed in foster care at the age of 14 and was in and out of foster homes until she was 18.
"Once you reach the age of 18, you are responsible for yourself, and what you choose to do with that is your decision," Armstrong said.
At age 17, while still in high school, she moved out of her foster home, got a job and supported herself.
She later became involved in the Fostering Bright Futures.
She plans to continue her education at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where she will study international studies.
She says her future is looking bright. Crossing the stage at Wake Tech was good practice for crossing the next stage in her life.
"It was exciting, but to me, it's like a stepping stone. I'm not done yet," she said.