Among the thousands of students at Cal State Fullerton, there are many who not only carry the common stresses of school on their shoulders, but also a destructive past and uncertain future.
Some students grew up in toxic environments, involving abuse, having drug addict parents or feeling neglected by people who should have loved them the most.
For many foster care youths, childhood struggles linger on well into college. At the age of 18, most are faced with the difficult decision of what to do next in life without guidance or help from family.
However, many local foster care students are able to finish school by being involved with the Cal State Fullerton Guardian Scholars program.
The program provides young adults who are transitioning out of the foster care system the opportunity to experience and complete college through a scholarship.
Jason McBeth, a CSUF alumni, was one of the Guardian Scholars recipients in 1999 and gives credit to the program for helping him graduate.
“I can say without fear of exaggeration that (Guardian Scholars) saved my life,” McBeth said. “Guardian Scholars not only gave me an opportunity I never even considered possible, but helped me to redirect my outlook on life.”
McBeth lived most of his life in the foster care system. He was taken from his family due to parental neglect and drug abuse and adopted at the age of one.
He said he was headed towards a life full of crime and drugs until the program came along.
“Guardian Scholars provides opportunity for a part of society that is too often completely overlooked,” McBeth said.
McBeth remains active in Guardian Scholars by assisting with fundraisers. With the help of other supporters, he raised over nine thousand dollars by running in the Los Angeles Marathon this year.
Guardian Scholars receives funding through CSUF, private donations and public agencies. The money is then used towards covering each student’s cost of tuition, textbooks and housing.
Guardian Scholars began 15 years ago when its founder, CSUF alumni Ron Davis, wanted to find a way to give back to students who struggled through the foster care system.
Davis has first hand experience of what many of the program’s students have been through since he grew up in foster care.
According to Davis, less than 1 percent of foster care youth graduate from college. However, students who go through the Guardian Scholars program have an 80 percent success rate.
He said he attributes the high graduation rate to the mentoring and support staff members provide to the students.
Becky McGraw is part of that success rate as she is the first Guardian Scholars student to graduate from college. Before joining the program, she was a teenager in foster care and a single mom.
McGraw said the concept of the program was just getting started by the time she became involved with it. In 2000, McGraw received her bachelor’s degree in communications at CSUF and is now a Guardian Scholars advisory board member.
Not only does the program provide college success and financial security to students, but also compassionate support by having staff that acts like a second family.
“The financial assistance helped me earn my college degree, but it’s been the relationships that have helped me through life,” McGraw said. “You can pretty much ask any Guardian Scholar and they have at least one person, if not many more, that they’ve connected to and remain friends with.”
She added that she’s gained lifelong relationships with several of the programs members, including Davis.
To this day, Davis interviews every student who applies to the program and remains in touch with graduates.
“We’re more than a scholarship,” Davis said. “We’re a family making dreams come true.”
Davis said he wants to show foster care youth that the world is a good place and people that can be trusted. “They can become a good functioning member of society,” Davis added.
Currently there are 43 students involved with the program, which has expanded to 20 colleges in other states, including Washington, Colorado and Massachusetts.