Advocates say FIU is doing all the right things to help former foster care and homeless students succeed.
“FIU has really become an example for others around the state,’’ said Brett McNaught, CEO of Educate Tomorrow, a Miami-based nonprofit. “What they are doing is leading the way for other universities.”
What FIU is doing is providing support through Fostering Panther Pride, which assists homeless and former foster care youth who are enrolled at the university.
Juna Joseph was one of those students who, without that help, could have fallen through the cracks.
When her mother died after a lengthy illness in June 2013, Joseph, a junior at the time, became homeless. Overwhelmed and unsure where to turn, she considered dropping out of FIU.
But instead she reached out to an advisor and found help through Fostering Panther Pride. The group rallied around Joseph, helping her find on-campus housing, a job at Chili’s, even the pants and shirt she needed for her first day of work.
Today, she has her bachelor’s degree in social work and works as a care coordinator for a private agency. She plans to pursue a master’s and hopes to one day help students with experiences similar to hers – the “forgotten children’’ she calls them.
“This has all been an amazing experience,’’ said Joseph, who was called out as a Worlds Ahead Graduate at the summer 2014 commencement. “I used to be so negative. Now I’m excited for my future. I know my mother is up there smiling.’’
From nights spent sleeping in her car, Vanessa Morales said her life changed when someone noticed her and called FIU police. The officer asked her where she lived. When she tearfully told him she had no place to go, he told her, “We’re going to find you a place to sleep tonight.’’
That night, with Ana Ramos’ help, Vanessa moved into an on-campus apartment. Since then, Ramos has helped her successfully apply for a tuition waiver and grants. With a place to call home, her grades have improved considerably – from a 2.0 GPA to a 3.8.
In the dorm at Parkview Hall she shares with three other young women, a large window overlooks FIU Stadium. Perched in front of the glass are four hand-painted signs that read “Shine bright,’’ “Pray continually,’’ “Love eternally” and “Dream peacefully.”
Vanessa said they are powerful reminders of how far she has come.
“This whole experience has helped me grow,’’ she said. “I now know that asking for help is okay. Sometimes people need a little help.’’