NEW YORK - Children in foster care in New York City now have more opportunities to go to college thanks to a newly expanded program giving them more financial help.
Twenty-five-year-old Sanjida Afruz entered the foster care system at age 16, brought to live in Brooklyn through a local agency.
"People in foster care have to go through tremendous amount of trauma to even be part of foster care," she recalls of her challenges early in life.
Despite those struggles, today she thrives. In December, she will be graduating with a dual bachelor's and master's degree in psychology from the City College of New York. She plans to be an alcohol and substance abuse counselor.
Last month, she was the star speaker when the Mayor and Administration for Children's Services announced the creation of the College Choice Program, which will ramp up support for college-aged youth in foster care. The program will provide them with up to $15,000 annually for tuition, will pay for room and board, and will grant a $60 daily stipend for living expenses.
"In order to help those who go through a lot, we must have leaders who have gone through a lot, and they personify that in a very real way," Mayor Eric Adams said at the time.
It's an expansion of previous programs which provided funding and support for those students who attend CUNY schools, but now, foster care youth attending any college, even out-of-state, will be covered. This makes New York City the first in the nation to have a program of this scale.
"It really allows, like their peers, a student in foster care to have opportunities and choices," explains Ina Mendez, Deputy Commissioner of Family Permanency Services at ACS.
The program also provides them with wraparound support, through groups like the New York Foundling, a nonprofit that is helping with tutoring, career counseling, mentorship and more.
"We know how having a college degree really helps support with removing barriers in terms of financial success," says Reina Batrony, Vice President of Community Based and Education Strategies for the New York Foundling.
All full-time college students in foster care are eligible for the benefits as long as they have applied for financial aid, maintain a 2.0 GPA, and participate in academic support programs.
"I just wanted to become someone that I didn't have," says Afruz of her career choice.
This academic year, the Mayor's Office says about 230 young people will benefit from the program, which costs about $10 million.
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