ECMC Foundation and JBAY Issue Campus Grants to Reduce Homelessness and Hunger

The housing crisis in California has escalated over the last decade, with homelessness touching groups once considered immune from it.

College students are one of these groups. According to a 2019 study, 1 in 5 community college students in California experience homelessness during the academic year. Hunger is also growing, with 50% of community college students reporting food insecurity within the last 30 days. Many of these vulnerable students are former foster youth.

JBAY is working to address homelessness and hunger on college campuses. With the support of the ECMC Foundation, JBAY issued seven grants in January 2021 to establish or expand “basic needs centers” which are centralized service centers on college campuses that help students meet their basic needs such as food, housing, clothing, and transportation.

The seven grants, ranging from $10,000 to $20,000 will assist approximately 20,000 students facing food and housing insecurity across California, from San Diego City College in Southern California to San Joaquin Delta College in the Central Valley to Lake Tahoe Community College in the Sierras.

JBAY Education Project Manager Melissa Bond is leading the effort and wrote a publication on basic needs released in October 2020, speaking to basic needs leaders across California and identifying best practices.

“The pandemic has made matters even worse,” said Bond. “The seven campuses selected for grants will prevent students from losing their hard-won academic gains.”

In additional to critically needed funding, JBAY will provide hands-on technical assistance to the seven campuses, with a focus on ensuring that students receive and maintain the financial aid they qualify to receive.

JBAY is Building More Onramps to Higher Education

When you are in high school struggling just to get by, it’s hard to see opportunities that can help break through the barriers to become a thriving adult. It’s even more difficult when those who are there to support you, including high school counselors and administrators, don’t know of programs to help you succeed.

One such opportunity is dual-enrollment. It gives high schoolers a taste of college, allowing them to take college courses for credit in high school. It also saves lots of money in tuition, since the college credits are free or low cost. Most importantly, students who participate in high-quality dual enrollment programs are more likely to graduate high school, enter college, and graduate with a degree.

“Earning college credits while still in high school shows kids that they have what it takes to succeed,” says Amy Lemley, executive director of John Burton Advocates for Youth (JBAY).  “It can be a wonderful program, but it’s so frustrating that the youth who need that boost the most are those least likely to know about this option.”

Studies have shown that students who are most underrepresented in college—young men of color,  students from low-income families, and first generation college students—often benefit the most from dual enrollment. Yet it’s a program that’s mostly been used by families who already have experience with higher education. 

Despite the clear benefits, California has not officially implemented dual enrollment as a strategy to improve access to higher education for foster youth. As a result, high schools and community colleges across the state have faced significant barriers in advancing dual enrollment programs, including lacking the clear guidelines and protocols to establish the programs.

To remedy this, JBAY is partnering with the Career Ladders Project to help three college campuses offer dual enrollment to  youth with experience of  foster care, homelessness or juvenile justice. Through this collaboration, JBAY will develop a learning agenda, offer technical assistance to the campuses, and document challenges and successes. The lessons learned from these pilot programs will be used to create guidelines for other campuses to create their own programs.

“Ensuring that students from disadvantaged backgrounds have access to this program will not only give them more opportunities to succeed, but allow them to see their potential,” says Lemley. “We’re excited to be building more onramps to higher education. It’s one of the best routes out of generational poverty .”

JBAY Advances College Success One Book at a Time

“This past year, I not only passed my classes but was able to significantly improve my grades thanks to the Burton Book Fund,” said Aja Dunlap, a former foster youth and junior at Sacramento State University. 

Aja is one of the 1,000 current and former foster youth served by the Burton Book Fund in the 2019-20 academic year. Since its launch in 2013, the Burton Book Fund has provided over $1.9 million to cover textbooks and critical needs costs to more than 7,700 current and former foster youth attending colleges in California. This academic year, over 1,000 youth attending 90 colleges will participate in the program.

From a lack of critical campus support resources to gaps in financial aid, foster youth continue to face significant barriers in accessing and succeeding in higher education. In order to address these barriers, the Burton Book Fund was established to ensure that students have sufficient support systems to pursue higher education. 

Over the past seven years, the Burton Book Fund has improved retention and degree completion rates by increasing student contact with campus support professionals throughout California. Through this process, students like Aja have partnered with their campuses in mobilizing to better serve foster and homeless youth.

This upcoming Fall, Aja will be entering her third year at Sacramento State and joining the Criminal Justice Fellowship to advance racial and economic justice. “I am so excited about this upcoming semester and opportunity to start taking upper division classes!” said Aja.

Aja was able to apply through the Burton Book Fund for the Guardian Scholars Program at Sacramento State. “The application process was pretty simple, straightforward, and I felt supported throughout it.” 

There are multiple ways you can support the Burton Book Fund, from spreading the word to donating books and resources. To donate to the fund, please visit the link here. To learn more about participation eligibility requirements, please visit the flyer for the 2020-21 program here