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Strike A Chord: Foster Kids Find Their Stride In College

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Kurt Dawiec, a junior at the City College of New York, was placed in foster care when he was 18 after his mother's drinking got out of control.
 
"She wasn't really fit to be that supporting parent that we all need, and that's not her fault," Dawiec said. "That's just what happened."
 
Dawiec, a physics major, is involved in a number of clubs and activities on campus. Despite his impressive resume, he said sometimes he feels a big disconnect between himself and the other students. 
 
"Everyone around you is kind of going through this stress and all these finals with you, but they always have this safety net to jump back into, and I feel like I don't really have that." 
 
Dawiec said he never had any doubt about college, but he said it's not that simple for everyone in foster care. 
 
"It's almost like you have a disability," Dawiec said. "It's almost like you feel less equipped to tackle certain challenges that everyone else around you does." 
 
Georgia Boothe, the Vice President of Child Welfare at Children's Aid, is in charge of helping kids aging out of foster care. She said it's sometimes tough to make foster kids see college as a viable option. 
 
"It's not this far off goal, but it's actually something that's achievable for them," Boothe said.
 
Boothe said when it comes to helping these foster kids get into college, no stone is left unturned. 
 
"We're helping them fill out their applications, their fafsa, their financial aid forms, and making sure those go in on time." 
 
Children's Aid gets a significant amount of their funding from New York State, and that money goes to help foster kids with all types of things like money management, finding a job and getting into college.
 
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's 2018 budget proposal may make it hard for programs like these to continue. New York State put $4.5 million to help pay for foster kids going to college last year, and this year that number's dropped to $1.5 million.
 
Boothe said this move could be a big deterrent for foster kids interested in college. 
 
"You now have kids who are going to be stressed about how they are going to close the gap in their financial aid package or how they're going to meet some of the daily living expenses that they have," Boothe said.
 
One student who's nervous about these changes is Julio Reyes, an accounting major at Binghamton University. He's set to graduate this year, and is planning to continue on to grad school. Reyes said he's not sure if he can afford it without the help of these programs.
 
"I would feel so much less support," Reyes said. "I'm so adjusted to this level of support I'm getting now that if I got any less support it would impact me tremendously. It would not allow me to be psychologically sound."
 
Reyes said when he first started at Binghamton, he wasn't sure how he was going to pay for college. Reyes was juggling going to school and having a job and said that type of anxiety isn't something he wants to experience anytime soon.
 
"You know that when you have anxiety building up inside of you like, 'how am I going to do this,' 'how am I going to do that,'" Reyes said. "It made it hard for me to relax enough to go to sleep sometimes, and that made it hard for me to focus the next day." 
 
With the help of programs like Children's Aid, Reyes said he is set to graduate Binghamton with no debt. Reyes said grad school might be a different story.
 
Governor Cuomo said the state is already spending a lot on education. At a recent speech at Marist College, Cuomo said New York is already doing everything it can to help people go to college. 
 
"We invest more in education than any state in the nation on a pupil by pupil cost," Governor Cuomo said. "They are children, they're our future, that's what every politician says. [But] we put our money where our mouth is."
 
Georgia Boothe said many foster kids are still getting left behind. New York has until April 1st to make any changes to the budget. If nothing happens, Boothe said many foster kids may be deterred from even applying to college in the first place. 
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