What do we know about kids in foster care? We know that so many have been neglected, traumatized (emotionally and physically), left to fend for themselves, and are therefore behind the eight ball when it comes to higher education. A small percentage make it to college. Many fail to graduate from high school. Sadly, they are often conditioned to believe they deserve nothing.

What do we often fail to recognize about these kids? Many demonstrate an extraordinary resilience. By surviving the turmoil and uncertainty of day-to-day and placement-to-placement foster care, they become gritty, self-reliant and driven. Given the same opportunities and support as other students their age, they can usually achieve success despite all they have learned to live with.

And yes, they are deserving.

That’s why I’m determined to make a special outreach to youths in foster care for our scholarship program. Foster kids are just young people who’ve had unfortunate circumstances and want to get ahead. We know that a great way to get ahead is to go to college. That’s why these kids need organizations like Give Something Back to achieve it.

Give Back presented college scholarships last year to 30 students from The South Jersey First Star Collaborative, a public-private partnership that aims to improve educational outcomes for foster youths.

Upon receiving this news, Peter Samuelson, the president of First Star, said the scholarships represent a new beginning for these young people.

“These students can now look beyond their turbulent pasts,” he said. “Nothing stands between them and what they want to achieve in life.”

Experts say, and I agree, that the leap from foster care to a four-year college is often enormous. It is one of the reasons we are partnering with community colleges to ensure a more successful transition and improve outcomes. In addition, we are establishing relationships with community-based organizations to provide the extra critical support and services these students need to prepare for post-secondary education while still in high school.

I’m extremely sympathetic to the plight of foster youth, and continue to be impressed with their hard work and perseverance. By providing them with an opportunity to go to college, foster kids will have greater job opportunities that are personally rewarding and provide financial stability.

There is a lot of work to be done. I will be providing updates here, on my blog, as Give Back helps break the cycle of foster care in our communities.