Two programs at FAU to help students who experienced homelessness succeed at college

Champions Empowering Champions and Educate Tomorrow help students who experienced foster care or homelessness transition from college into adulthood.

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Two programs at FAU to help students who experienced homelessness succeed at college

Kimberly Swan, Contributing Writer

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Kimberly Dunn entered foster care when she was nine, but was only there for a short time. Today, she is the Executive Director of Champions Empowering Champions. Familiar with the struggles and challenges that homeless students face, she aims to empower students academically. 

Beginning this fall, the nonprofit Champions Empowering Champions (CEC) will help students in a variety of ways, according to Dunn. She believes transitioning can be overwhelming, so the goal of this program is to prepare students for life after college without a “safety net,” building their independence.

“I just wanted to create something that will help with those transitions because I felt like the students really do deserve all the support that we can give them,” said Dunn.

The organization will help students learn about different majors, explore financial resources, and offer a support system. The staff can also assist students in job searching and interviewing. 

This year, 154 undergraduate students who had experienced foster care or homelessness enrolled at FAU, according to their website.

On May 1, Dunn gave a presentation of CEC at FAU’s Tech Runway Launch Competition and won $15,000 and a year’s worth of hands-on assistance in the form of training, as a result. They haven’t received the funding yet since there’s a one-year commitment in place, but they’ll be able to receive it in May 2020.

“It was something really special,” she added.

Executive Director of CEC Kimberly Dunn

Dunn explained that while two students’ stories are not exactly the same, some of the challenges are feeling they don’t belong, and thinking they are the only ones who don’t know how to navigate the systems like financial aid and registration.   

One of their initiatives is promoting community. For example, if a student needs someone to talk to or celebrate with, volunteers and staff from the program can be there to support them so they don’t have to be alone.

The program is also working toward creating a “squad.” This group of fellow students and professional volunteers can help develop trust and relationships with the students who need help. Dunn says the relationships between the students and professional volunteers will evolve over time through monthly meetings which will include team building activities.

Dunn said less than 50 percent of students in foster care graduate from high school and only 2.5 percent graduate from a four-year college, according to Foster Care Newsletter.

Dunn said they’re currently going through training that started in the summer to make sure they’re meeting their goals. They have a mentor team of professionals who volunteer their time to work with organizations selected by Tech Runway judges to give advice on governance, organizational structure, fundraising, and more.

Champions Empowering Champions was first introduced by Dunn during the summer of 2018, and the first meeting was in November. She said there were about 10-12 people there with something to add and were asked to be involved.

“I have found that pursuing things that make a huge impact on student’s lives was the most rewarding part, so I started thinking about ways that I could do that,” said Dunn. 

There are five retired FAU employees on the advisory boards with over 100 years of service to the university, said Dunn.

The program officially began Sept. 25, at the first orientation meeting.

Champions Empowering Champions isn’t the only program at FAU that helps students who experienced foster care or homelessness. According to its website, Educate Tomorrow offers services such as tutoring, opportunities to get involved in the community, independent living skills activities, and much more.

Their website also says that each year, students who age out of foster care move into their residence halls without essential items such as laundry detergent, school supplies, bed linens, etc. Therefore, they host OWLdopt a Room effort, which is a goal to provide basic household items and materials to ease their transition to campus life.

They also list specific instructions on how to donate to support the needs of the students.

Jasmine Moore, who has been the Assistant Director of Educate Tomorrow (ET) for two years, says they secured a grant to assist students who have experienced foster care and/or homelessness with post-secondary resources and success. It has been active at FAU for two years now.

Along with the other services, ET also offers success coaching, which happens from admission to graduation. Success coaching connects a student with a coach who helps students deal with their challenges. 

Moore said she works with students to identify appropriate resources on and off campus that assist with removing barriers or providing additional support.

“Students have described the program as providing a support system, assisting with the transition to college, providing networking through the campus, and making sure they stay on track academically,” she said. 

Moore said they have over 90 students in the program, 60 percent of which are AOK Scholars, which financially assists students from the foster care system

ET promotes CEC programming and assists with student recruitment for the program, so they serve both groups of students and communicate frequently.