Foster Youth Overcomes Odds, Bound for CSUB in the Fall

Tuesday May 28, 2024

First-generation students, often referred to as “first-gens,” are college-bound individuals whose parents did not pursue higher education. This significant milestone represents a break from familial and often socio-economic traditions, symbolizing hope, perseverance, and the pursuit of greater opportunities. For many first-gens, the journey to higher education is fraught with unique challenges and triumphs. Below is one in a series of stories about Kern County first-gens as they embark on the next chapters of their lives.

To nominate someone for a story in this series, please reach out to communcations@kern.org

Despite facing significant challenges throughout their academic journeys, local foster students are defying the odds and are now preparing to attend four-year universities this fall. Among these resilient students is Memory Richmond, who will graduate from Mira Monte High School this week as a first-generation college student.

Richmond successfully navigated the foster care system and was adopted by her grandmother. She will attend CSU Bakersfield, majoring in nursing, and aspires to become a nurse practitioner.

“I want to help people,” she said. “I like the idea of human anatomy. The inside of the body just looks interesting.”

Richmond has shown incredible resilience and determination, maintaining high grades and participating in extracurricular activities such as the multimedia club, playing the guitar, and doing fashion design.

The Guardian Scholars Program, which is implemented at several college and university campuses across the state, including CSUB, is helping Richmond follow her dreams. The program provides comprehensive support to current and former foster youth, helping them transition smoothly into college life and ensuring their academic and personal success. It offers various services, including academic support, career guidance, peer networking, housing assistance, and financial aid advising.

“[CSUB] has been helping me with so much,” Richmond said. “With things like applying for government assistance and giving me ideas on scholarships.” 

Memory Richmond, right, and friends at annual YES! Conference.

Richmond will also benefit from the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP), which provides students with additional resources to ensure academic and personal well-being. And thanks to the Guardian Scholars Summer Bridge program, Richmond will have early residency in the CSUB dorms, moving in during the summer before other residents arrive in the fall.

Curt Williams is the director of Homeless and Foster Youth Services with the Kern County Superintendent of Schools. He says seeing foster students thrive is the gold standard of his career. He emphasizes the importance of stability and support. Through programs such as Youth Empowering Success (YES!), foster students can connect with their peers and receive vital resources they need to thrive. There are more than two dozen YES! chapters at middle and high school campuses across Kern.

“It’s a private place where they can get to know who’s on campus to support them,” Williams said. “They feel like they have a community. They feel like they have a voice, which makes them more engaged in school.”

Cynthia Gutierrez is a prevention service facilitator for KCSOS’s foster youth and homeless education program. She says Richmond is an active member of her YES! chapter and spoke at the annual YES! Conference in April.

“She’s a wonderful, wonderful youth and she advocates very well for herself,” Gutierrez said. “Her voice is just going to be so powerful.”

Brian Johnson, a peer support specialist with KCSOS and a former foster youth, highlighted the transformative impact of programs such as YES! and the Dream Center.

The Dream Center helps provide food, clothing, transportation, and access to other resources that foster and homeless youth might not otherwise have. By taking care of these basic needs, students are able to focus on their education.

“My role is to help them succeed. We’re trying to champion these kids going into college,” Johnson said. “A lot of our youth get lost in the system and don’t have that assistance to help them.”

Richmond shared her excitement and gratitude for the support she’s received, thanking her high school guidance counselor, teachers, mentors, friends, and family for their constant encouragement.

Despite being a self-proclaimed introvert, Richmond says she wants to encourage others to succeed, just as her friends in the YES! program have helped her.

“It’s nice talking to them. They get it. It just makes you feel like you’re not going through this alone,” she said.

Memory Richmond sits on YES! student panel.

The success of students like Richmond is a testament to the power of dedicated support programs and the resilience of foster youth. As these students prepare to embark on their college journeys, they inspire others facing similar challenges, proving that with determination and the right support, anything is possible.

Gutierrez said even though not everyone will want to go to college, it’s important never to give up or let anything stand in the way of your dreams.

“We’re here to help support you and find something that you will enjoy doing, but never say that you can’t go to college because there are many different programs out there for you,” she said.

Williams says he’s proud of all the foster youth who rose to the challenge and achieved their goals.

“I love seeing kids graduate,” he said. “When it leads to success, we are always super excited.”

By Katie Avery

By Katie Avery

Katie Avery joined the Kern County Superintendent of Schools in 2023 as a Communications Specialist. As a former journalist and marketing professional, her passions include media and storytelling. Before joining KCSOS, Avery worked for various local TV stations as well as the health care industry.