by Linda Hass, Published May 14, 2014
Eastern Michigan University may not have a magic formula for helping students who have aged out of foster care, but its Mentorship Access Guidance in College (MAGIC) program provides something better—empowerment.
“Eastern’s program is very empowering; it helps you do things for yourself,” says senior Brittany Bartkowiak, whose foster care experience fell short of fully preparing her for college. Thanks to her own resilience, and support from the program, the determined 23-year-old received a bachelor of social work degree in April.
Bartkowiak described her foster care experience as difficult, challenging and always changing. “There was very little stability,” says the Canton native, whose foster care placements shuffled her to three different cities. Her most challenging experience, a group home with other girls, had lodging she compared to a “jail cell” and required seclusion from outside relationships, she adds.
Unfortunately, Bartkowiak’s experience is not unique, says Joi Rencher, independent living skills coach/coordinator for EMU’s MAGIC program. “Foster care alumni are an underserved demographic who have unique needs that often act as barriers to a college education and retention,” says Rencher.
Statistics shed light on the challenges facing foster care alumni. Only 3% complete a bachelor’s degree by the age of 26 compared to 24% of the general population, according to a Midwest Study conducted in 2011.
In addition, foster care alumni are twice as likely as U.S. veterans to have symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, says Bartkowiak, who has studied the issue and has been accepted into the University of Michigan’s master of social work program. Programs like MAGIC have the potential to turn those statistics around, she adds.
“At the MAGIC program, we not only help with students’ academic goals, but offer guidance on basic needs such as safe and affordable lodging, health insurance, mental health services and life skills,” says Rencher, adding that Bartkowiak was on her way to success before the program. “Brittany’s strength is astounding and her passion is commendable. What our program gave her was emotional and social support, guidance, and a circle to celebrate her accomplishments,” Rencher adds.
Bartkowiak says she learned about the MAGIC program a couple years after enrolling in EMU. “I’m so glad I saw the flier on campus and followed up. I’ve benefitted from mentors like Joi Rencher, who sat beside me as I applied for ETV (Educational Training Voucher), guided me in filing my taxes and pointed me to resources for health insurance,” says Bartkowiak. “Joi helped build my confidence and helped prepare me to handle anything that comes my way.”
The good news continues for Bartkowiak, who just received a $20,000 scholarship from Foster Care 2 Success to use toward her two-year graduate program at the University of Michigan.
MAGIC, established in 2012, is part of EMU’s Academic Success Partnerships within the Division of Academic and Student Affairs. The program, made possible by a 3-year grant from the State of Michigan, is designed to provide encouragement, mentoring, and life skills coaching to ensure a successful transition from foster care into adulthood and university life.
To learn more about the program, free to foster care alumni who are 21 years old or younger, go to: http://www.emich.edu/magic/