For students new to UCI, the enormity of the campus, the vast variety of resources and the quick pacing of the quarter system can be intimidating. They often rely on a network of friends and family members for help adapting to the university environment. But those who are or were in foster care may not have a support system.
The Foster Youth Resilience in Education program fills this void. Its overarching goal is to meet the practical, economic, social and academic needs of current and former foster wards so that they can weather the transition to college and succeed at UCI.
FYRE Scholars benefit from personalized counseling every quarter, workshops on topics ranging from holistic healing to graduate school preparation, tutoring, priority registration, guaranteed housing and book loans. The program also encourages them to give back.
Kimberly Quiros-Elias, a junior in business economics, has been living independently since she was 16 due to her mother’s sudden death. After attending several FYRE workshops, she got involved in the FYRE leadership committee, planning events for other members.
In her second year, Quiros-Elias and her peers founded Foster Student Ambassadors, a club that assists such youths in high school. She’s currently a peer mentor for the FYRE program, pointing UCI foster students toward resources both on and off campus.
“What I’ve valued the most about FYRE are the one-on-one meetings I had with [program director] Janet Perez-Molina over issues with housing, books and registering for classes,” Quiros-Elias says. “Seeing how motivated Janet is to help others – and having personally received her help – inspired me to help others by sharing my experience as a foster youth going to college.”
FYRE is just one of UCI’s Student Success Initiatives, designed to support first-generation, transfer, disabled, undocumented, low-income and international – as well as foster – students in navigating university life and beyond.
Monica English, a senior in philosophy, spent her early teens in the foster care system after escaping an abusive home. The FYRE program’s outreach work has given her a stronger sense of what she’d like to do after graduation.
“We had the opportunity to give a presentation to current foster youth at Mariners Church, demonstrating how it’s still possible to attain higher education,” English says. “Now that I’ve been able to restart my path, I want to be able to give back. I think that’s my biggest goal.”
But for her and many FYRE Scholars, the most rewarding aspect of the program is bonding with other foster students.
“It’s reassuring to know that you’re not alone and that you can still achieve greatness,” English says. “FYRE is a safe space where we can acknowledge our own difficult journeys and take comfort in the fact that we’re all in this together. I’ve always felt like a misfit and an outcast, so it’s nice to have my own group of unconventional and resilient beings.”