BLOOMSBURG, Pa. –– Stability and hope are core values of the Anchor Program at Bloomsburg University, which hopes to help break the cycle of homelessness and poverty that often plagues children aging out of foster care.
The National Youth in Transition Database found that among 21-year-olds from foster care environments surveyed in 2015, 1 in 4 was homeless within the prior two years. Of those who were homeless, 3 in 5 were unemployed and 1 in 3 gave birth or fathered a child in that same time period.
The Anchor Program will serve 40 teens ages 15 to 18 from five counties in central Pennsylvania. The program aims to build independent living skills and introduce higher education foster children living in the Susquehanna River Valley.
Bloomsburg University is tailoring the program to simulate college life, though it will be supervised around the clock.
Participants will go through the move-in experience — meeting roommates and attending orientation. They’ll attend workshops on all manner of academic pursuits: creative writing, art, science, seminars on social justice and leadership. Field trips are built into the experience as are after-hours programming like movie night, yoga and ultimate Frisbee.
Everything is free — meals, housing, activities and program materials.
The on-campus experience is part of a multi-year mentorship program designed to disrupt patterns of homelessness and unemployment among teens aging out of foster care.
“BU mentors will partner with the youth throughout the year about topics such as developing academic goals, exploring academic disciplines, researching post-secondary institutions, and navigating financial aid/scholarships,” said Rona Anderson, Assistant to the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts, who will coordinate the program.
Incarceration also isn’t unusual for those in foster care. The NYTD survey found 37 percent had been incarcerated to some degree by age 17. The numbers dipped with age — 24 percent of 19-year-olds and 20 percent of 21-year-olds reported having been incarcerated within two years.
By age 21, just 5 percent reported having a vocational certificate or license and just 3 percent a college degree.
“We have this idea of what a college student looks like. In the 21st Century, we have to diversify that idea. We’re a public institution. We’re here to serve the entire population of the region,” said James Brown, dean of the College of Liberal Arts. “We have the opportunity here to serve students who maybe never saw themselves as possible college students.”
If those teens in foster care choose to attend Bloomsburg University, Brown said they’ll be able to live on campus year-round. When other students go home for holidays or summer break, he said there will be programming offered to those who stick around.
Youth homelessness is a problem that many children face after transitioning from care to independent life, according to Youth Fostering Change, an outreach program based in Philadelphia. One of their recommendations for eliminating post-foster care homelessness is for universities to offer summer and holiday housing, like the Anchor Program does.
Rose Weir, administrator, Snyder County, Pennsylvania Children and Youth, was excited when she learned of the program. She said everyone benefits from having a positive mentor at one point in their lives, foster children especially.
“Most people are successful if they have at least one or more adults who support them with their interests,” Weir said. “It will help them with goal-setting. No matter the educational opportunities they may want to explore, it will help them for exploration.”
Katrina Gownley, administrator, Northumberland County, Pennsylvania Children and Youth, said she looks forward to getting teens registered with the Anchor Program.
“I think it will give them guidance, hope,” Gownley said. “I think it would really help give them the confidence they need to go on to higher education.”
“It’s a difficult age the way it is,” Gownley added of the teen years. “Foster living just adds to the stress of it. … I’m really glad to see (Bloomsburg University) taking the initiative to do something like that.”
Scicchitano writes for the Sanbury, Pennsylvania Daily Item.