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Organization provides support for foster alumni
UNT has a new student organization, PUSH, that helps former foster children through the college process from application to graduation.
PUSH, which stands for Persevere Until Success Happens, meets at 1p.m. every second and fourth Thursday of the month in Chilton Hall.
“Foster alumni lack much of the support systems most students have,” said Brenda Sweeten, project coordinator for the department of Rehabilitation, Social Work and Addictions at UNT. “They don’t have a family unit to talk to about discussions or rely on for financial assistance.”
Sweeten, along with five foster alumni students, founded the organization last spring but are still having trouble reaching out to the foster alumni in the Denton community.
“Lack of awareness is our biggest issue,” senior social work major and foster alumni Rebecka Greenhagen, said “It’s hard to find them all because of confidentiality issues.”
Sweeten estimates that there are probably 90 foster alumni students at UNT. So far, PUSH has reached seven.
“Not everyone who was in foster care wants to continue to be seen as foster kids,” Sweeten said. “We are here to help you adjust and make it through college.”
In 2009, there were 26,309 foster kids in Texas, according to childwelfare.gov. Those kids will age out of the program in less than 18 years and become self-sufficient.
“Thousands of foster kids want to go to college but don’t ever have the opportunity,” Greenhagen said. “That’s what PUSH is for, to go find those kids and help them get into college and make sure they graduate.”
PUSH members have spoken at conferences, on radio shows and on panels, trying to get their voice out there.
“This group of students are speaking out to the community,” Sweeten said. “And they are here on our campus telling their stories, talking about their challenges and their education.”
Sweeten said she knew a college freshman who couldn’t afford a coat for the winter and had no money to eat on weekends when her meal plan didn’t cover them. That’s one of the situations PUSH wants to help with, she said.
Kathy Dreyer, program coordinator for UNT’s Texas Institute for Research and Education on Aging, is impressed with Sweeten’s dedication.
“Brenda is a passionate advocate for these students, not just what they need educationally but in every way,” Dryer said. “These are incredible people who have succeeded in getting into college and they want others to get there as well.”
PUSH supplies a support group for foster alumni, but it also gives other students the opportunity to appreciate what they have and reach out to others.
“Advocating is the most important thing we do,” Greenhagen said. “Going into the community and sharing our stories, being a mentor for kids that are in the system.”