First Star Kent State Academy Provides Umbrella of Protection for Foster Care Alumni
Throughout Claire’s high school years, First Star Kent State Academy college access program for youth in foster care has provided her with life skills, career exploration, social and cultural activities and moral support.
Now Claire is a first-year student at Kent State, majoring in psychology. Although she lives on the Kent Campus and is no longer in foster care, she continues to be under the Purple Umbrella Network, First Star’s newest support resource for youth transitioning out of foster care.
Claire is one of the first two First Star Kent State Academy high school graduates. Both have gone on to higher education. The other scholar is enrolled at Stark State College.
“First Star was supportive of me and helped me prepare for college,” Claire said. “They helped me see if I could get scholarships. I was able to get a micro grant from them. I am still in contact with (First Star).”
First Star is a national, nonprofit program that partners with child welfare agencies, universities and school districts to ensure that foster youth have the academic, life skills and support they need to transition to higher education and adulthood.
Danielle Green-Welch, director of the academy, launched the first cohort of the program in 2020. Now the program is recruiting for the 2023 cohort.
“First Star is specifically for middle and high school students, but the purple umbrella component is geared toward supporting not just our First Star graduates, but any student on the Kent Campus that has a foster care impact,” Green-Welch said. “Our goal of course is to work with them to help to not just get them here, but to help them stay and graduate.”
Green-Welch got the idea to start a purple umbrella network from one that she created while in a previous position with the Cuyahoga County Department of Children and Family Services.
That purple umbrella network had 100 community partners who educated the community on the needs of young people who were transitioning from foster care. She knew several students who needed help with various struggles.
Youth in foster care should receive proactive support and resources in the same manner as that of underrepresented and special needs populations, veterans, individuals experiencing homelessness and nontraditional students, she said.
“I wanted to build that same network because it is a bit challenging and a lot of times our students wait until a situation is really far gone before they ask for help,” Green-Welch said.
Last summer First Star held its residential summer academy with 12 middle and high school students who spent two weeks in a residence hall at Kent State. While on campus, students were engaged with the Brain Health Research Institute and the Department of Computer Science in the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Communication and Information.
"Having the opportunity to engage with the various departments and the university gave our scholars the chance to start thinking about what their future endeavors might entail after high school,” Green-Welch said.
Claire’s grandmother Ayasha Coles of Kent got her four grandchildren involved in First Star Kent State Academy three years ago. The children had been in foster care until she got custody of them.
“Everything they have done is a godsend,” Coles said. “They have activities and speakers and they encourage the children to think about their future.”
For more information about First Star Kent State Academy, email firstname.lastname@example.org.