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Voices For Children College Tour 2024: Exposing Youth to Possibilities

By Giovanna Maldonado, Chief Programs Officer

For many youth who experience foster care, going to college may seem like a far-off, unattainable concept. 
For its second year, Voices For Children Foundation, with the support of KPMG, embarked on an inspiring journey to chase dreams and help change the trajectories of 19 resilient youth in foster care as we boarded a transformative college tour across seven colleges and universities in Florida. By exposing these resilient young individuals to the possibility of attending college, we're not only opening doors but also instilling hope and equipping them with the tools necessary to achieve their collegiate dreams. Staying true to our vision, Voices believes that support and exposure for children should not be a privilege, especially for our youth in foster care. To dream beyond one's circumstances can occur when the possibility of a college education is tangible. Exploring higher academic programs is a unique opportunity and symbolizes a beacon of hope in their lives. This year's college tour has proven to do just that.

Kick-Off Day

A gift. 

Voices kicked off this journey with unparalleled intentionality and profound impact during a visit to the Grant Cardone Foundation's Wealth Management Seminar. Students were immersed in Grant Cardone's daily morning meeting (some would argue it's a brief party), where they experienced cheers, music, dancing, and joy, which awakened even our most timid scholar. The energy was contagious and felt by everyone in the room. Every presenter was thrilled to partner with our students and eager to share their experiences and knowledge.

One of the most significant takeaways I heard from the youth was the "10Xing" of goals they learned. The 10X rule states that you "must set goals/targets ten times what you think you want and do ten times what you think it takes to accomplish those targets." Encouraging youth in foster care to aim high and strive for targets that exceed their initial expectations can be transformative. By instilling this mindset early on, they're learning valuable lessons about wealth management and developing a mindset of ambition and resilience that can serve them well as they navigate their futures. I'm humbled to be on this journey with our youth, working alongside them and our determined staff to see them through college completion and beyond. 

Learning the foundation to building wealth will go a long way as youth in foster care begin to take action and control their finances as they age out and become independent.

Day 1 at FIU

Before hitting the road on the big bus, we explored one of the largest state schools in Florida, here in our Miami backyard, Florida International University (FIU). 

FIU greeted us with sunny Miami skies and a warm welcome from their Fostering Panther Pride (FPP) program reps and some amazing volunteers from KPMG Miami. The FIU team started the tour with information on the University, including programming, housing, and financial aid resources. A current student in the FPP program spoke about their experience from getting into the program and navigating the FIU system. I must admit, I wasn't sure what to expect during my visit to FIU, but they blew my expectations out of the water! I'm ready to get another degree. The campus was absolutely beautiful and full of life. 

We were able to check out a dormitory and learn some popular culture about the school, such as the "kissing bridge" on campus! The number of programs available left a tangible impact on the students. 

Some of the students' comments were: 

"The FIU campus is something else…amazing."

"Dream college."

"Something for everyone."

"It's what I expected and more." 

We left FIU feeling confident and excited for the future! And it's right in our backyard.

Day 2 at FAU & Daytona State College

Today, we set off on our driving part of the tour. Students packed their bags and met to board our coach bus for the remainder of the week. 
Heading out before sunrise, we drove to Florida Atlantic University (FAU) to continue our tour. Here, we learned that the University had a wait list for the first time in FAU history, making this institution increasingly more competitive. The number of programs offered surpassed any of our expectations and the supports and resources they have in place for youth in foster care are also wonderful. Some fun facts we learned were that the beach is only a 2-mile walk, and the main corridor connecting the University from the north end to the south end is known as "I-95." We were also met by one of our supporters, The Kingdom Charitable Trust. Students loved the smaller "homey" feel of the University and appreciated the distance – out of town but not "too far."

Four hours later, we found ourselves at Daytona State College, Daytona Beach Campus. This college, while smaller, still offered dormitories, a robust student life, and an athletic program. One of their newer and innovative programs was a super cool Esports Computer Lab and program. Students can compete intramurally and in competitions with other college programs in exciting video games. A great resource for our youth if they were to attend Daytona State is the Falcon HOPE Center. 

The HOPE Center offers a food pantry, emergency transportation, and shelter services, a professional clothing closet, and childcare resources for students with small children. While not a crowd favorite, Daytona State offered some great resources and a more individualized college experience. One student mentioned that he "was able to explore new universities and colleges" he had never heard of. We can't change the reasons why children go into care, but we can provide them with hope for a different future.

Next up: Tallahassee to check out some more great universities!

Day 3 at FAMU & FSU

For many of our youth in foster care, attending a historically black college or University (HBCU) would be a dream come true. Visiting Florida Agriculture & Mechanical University (FAMU) was inspirational on many levels. Imagine a beautiful campus with green lawns and captivating history at the state's capital and combine that with a passion and dedication for school spirit. The eternal flame found on campus symbolizes the fire and spirit that lies within every FAMU student and alumni. One student's observation was so poignant: "Seeing all these young black people is inspiring me to do more with myself." Another student stated, "touring FAMU made me confident that I want to be a part of this university." These moments make the work at Voices For Children so profound. 
FAMU offers an abundance of rigorous academic programs including a law school. After having lunch at the campus cafeteria on Fried Chicken Wednesday, we headed to Florida State University (FSU).
It may have been raining, but Voices For Children brought the sunshine to Florida State University. We first met with a representative from the CARE program, which provides transitional support for underrepresented students enrolling at the University.

One program is the Summer Bridge Program, which is designed to provide a comprehensive orientation and transition program for first-generation college students who are also from limited incomes. 
We were impressed by the four students who came to speak with our youth about their experiences. One student was from Hialeah (in Miami-Dade County) and explained her experience and transition to FSU from Hialeah High School. The other three students were a part of the Unconquered Scholars Program. This program provides an array of support services for students that have experienced foster care or homelessness. The program offers a plethora of resources ranging from tutoring to one-on-one advising. 
After the presentation, one student learned they could go to college for free until age 28. This realization gave the student hope. Realizing that the only thing that stands between them and college is THEM.   

Day 4 at UC and UCF

After leaving Gainesville, we journeyed southward to the College of Central Florida (CF). CF is a small State College within Ocala with great support systems for students making the transition to college. Compared to Daytona State College, CF offers a 100% admission rate, making it an excellent option for students who may benefit from a year or two to improve their grades or pursue a technical career.  
Our final destination was the University of Central Florida (UCF). With perfect weather and an electrifying vibe, our youth had the opportunity to fully immerse themselves in the grandeur of this stunning campus. Two students led our tour, which was supported by some great KPMG Orlando Volunteers. 
We had lunch at the campus cafeteria, explored the grounds, entered the student union, and imagined the excitement of a football game at the stadium.  
Some final quotes from students after visiting UCF include: 
"Being on campus gave me the opportunity to picture myself living the college lifestyle. I felt really cool walking on campus and it made me excited for the next chapter of my life."
"This college tour made me feel confident about myself and my future. I learned that no matter what our background is, we can accomplish whatever we want if we put our focus on it." 
We are incredibly proud of our youth! As our journey concluded, our hearts were filled with immense gratitude towards everyone who made this transformative trip possible: champions, staff, partners, youth, chaperones, and all the individuals we met along the way who gave us nuggets of hope for the future. Thank you for sharing this opportunity with these 19 resilient and determined youth. 
The trip may have concluded, but our work is ongoing! 
Next stop, college graduation. 
Chasing Dreams and Changing Trajectories. Be A Voice.

Blue Mission Students

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