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The Brook J. Lenfest Foundation and Philadelphia Foundation are launching the Lenfest Immensitas Scholars Program for youth in foster care and aging out of foster care — an effort designed to increase college graduation among up to 100 Philadelphians annually.
The Philadelphia Foundation administers the Brook Lenfest Foundation’s grantmaking, and Brook himself approached PF with the idea.
“In both the education and business arenas, you often hear people talking about the challenges faced by youth in foster care, but nobody seemed prepared to tackle that specific group of folks,” Lenfest said.
He added that although there are some good efforts, such as the Field Center and West Chester University’s Promise Program, “we often hear about aging out, homelessness, incarceration and the appalling high school and college graduation rates for this population — the lowest of any group — but not many people seemed willing to take it head on.”
That bothered Lenfest, especially at the point at which 18- to 21-year-olds are aging out of care when all support services disappear. He asked himself: “Why not provide housing and an education, and hopefully a career path, and try to increase the graduation rate and decrease the homelessness and incarceration?”
The result is a $1.8 million initiative over three years. Pedro Ramos, president and CEO of the Philadelphia Foundation, said it will fund room, board and expenses such as books, computers, essentials for dorm living, while simultaneously leveraging an extensive support system for participants. “Supports will include academic advising, a summer bridge program, housing and meals during school breaks and a designated liaison at each school,” Ramos said.
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Approximately 250 Philadelphia youth annually age out of foster care beginning at age 18.
“It’s estimated that only 3% of former foster youth who enroll in college will graduate. Through this program, we hope to significantly increase that percentage and bring it to scale,” Ramos said. “The name — Immensitas, Latin for ‘boundless’ — signifies the unlimited potential of every youth, as well as the life opportunities available to those with a college degree.”
The initiative involves 10 partners, all of which understood the many barriers that stand in the way of college completion for former foster youth and are committed to breaking them down.
“A lot of thought went into the design and structure of the program so that it — and the students — maximize the possibilities of success,” Ramos added.
The foundation is partnering with Harcum College (80 students), Penn State University main campus (five students), West Chester University (five students) and Penn College of Technology (10 students).
Partnering with Harcum are I-Lead’s ACE (Achieve College education) program, Delta Community Supports, Inc. and Project HOME.
Philadelphia Education Fund is helping to identify potential scholars and Community College of Philadelphia is conducting a multi-year longitudinal evaluation.
“As long-time funders of both educational opportunities and vulnerable populations, we are proud to partner with the Brook J. Lenfest Foundation on this initiative,” Ramos said. “We believe in the critical role of education in shaping and preparing future leaders.”
Lenfest added: “Education can make all men and women equal regardless of what neighborhood they are from or what their economic start in life was like. Through education, anyone can broaden their horizons and enrich their outlook on life and pursue any career path that exists. Through that freedom, they can find fulfillment, economic security and, ultimately, a happy life.”
Unfortunately, access to educational opportunity is not equal across all neighborhoods and households. These scholarships are a small way to try and even the scales of opportunity.
“I know the recipients will make themselves proud and in turn, make me proud by achieving at a high level and I hope their example will encourage others to join this effort with their support,” Lenfest said.
Under Pennsylvania’s Fostering Independence Tuition Waiver Program, tuition and fees for undergraduate degrees at colleges and universities in Pennsylvania are waived for youth in foster care to reduce financial barriers.-30-
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