Twenty-seven-year-old Sage is a Ceramics student at Selkirk College’s Kootenay School of the Arts in Nelson in Southeastern BC. As a former youth in care, she held off pursuing post-secondary education for many years.
“When it came to college and university, I kind of freaked out. School is so expensive, it didn’t seem like a realistic option for me,” she says. Along with post-secondary tuition fees, students have to cover living expenses, which are almost $20,000 annually on average.
While over 80% of BC families with kids ages 19-28 support them financially, these supports are often not available to former youth in care. Some students work multiple jobs while at school. Others hit pause on their education, withdrawing for a semester to work and save money, then returning when they can afford it.
Education not an option
Some like Sage feel post-secondary education is not even an option. In fact, 50% less youth aging out of care continue on to post-secondary studies compared with other youth.
“Beyond the general lack of encouragement and guidance former youth in care are faced with at a critical point in their lives, they must also deal with a disproportionate gap in the financial support they receive. It’s the reason so few even consider the path to higher education,” says Kim Winchell, Senior Director, Strategy & Operations at United Way of the Lower Mainland and Youth Futures Advisory Committee member. “Youth are our future, that’s why United Way of the Lower Mainland is committed to supporting the Youth Futures Education Fund, so all young people have equal access to opportunity.”
Thanks to a provincial tuition waiver program, which covers school fees and the Youth Futures Education Fund, which helps former youth in care with basic living expenses like rent, food and books, Sage has some of the financial support she needs to pursue a certificate in Ceramics. From there, she plans to focus on a degree in the field and minor in Aboriginal studies with the ultimate goal of becoming an art therapist.
Art for healing and hope
“The [fund] has given me the opportunities to pursue goals and passions I didn’t think would ever be able to explore,” Sage says. “It’s one of the most incredible choices I could have made. I’m very happy with pursuing art in my life. It has always been a very positive source of inspiration for me.
“I can look into the future instead of just looking at my current circumstances and situation.”
A beautiful thing
In 2020, more than 800 former youth from care like Sage are attending school on a tuition waiver program and hoping for support from the Youth Futures Education Fund. Thanks to fund supporter United Way of the Lower Mainland and its donors, more former youth in care like Sage are getting a fair shot at success alongside her peers.
In September, United Way more than doubled its commitment to former youth in care investing an unprecedented $350,000 into the Fund, up significantly from $150,000 in 2018/19.
“For kids that are coming out of care, things were pretty rough for all of us, so knowing that there is some support makes a world of difference,” says Sage. “It feels really good that there are people out there fighting for us.”
“It’s a beautiful thing.”
The Youth Futures Education Fund was collaboratively established by: Coast Capital Savings, The Province of British Columbia, and the Office of the Representative for Children and Youth. The Youth Futures Education Fund is guided by an Advisory Committee, held at the Vancouver Foundation and is administered by United Way of the Lower Mainland.
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