Great Expectations helps foster children earn degree, training at community colleges

By Jenna Zibton - Anchor

DANVILLE (WSLS 10) -  One in four children who enter Virginia's foster care system will not find a permanent home before they turn 18 according to the Great Expectations Program.  That means about 500 young people "age-out" of the system each year, which usually means making it on their own.  A program helping these teens through college started in Danville.

"I never thought I would've graduated college," said Jasper Scales, a Danville Community College graduate.

Scales is a Danville Community College graduate thanks to a program called Great Expectations that helps foster children or children who have previously been in foster care get credentials, training or an associate's degree.

"Foster care is a cycle. Often times people who have experienced foster care have very low rates of college education. It's about 3% nationally so what we hope is that by having the students get a postsecondary credential, achieve a sustainable wage or self-sustaining wage then they won't end up in circumstances where their children are in foster care," said Rachel Strawn, Great Expectations Director who oversees programs across Virginia and says the most important influences are coaches at each Community College who do everything a parent would do.

"We helped him with the gas cards, bus tokens, we helped by him buy books, sometimes his welding supplies. Things that financial aid does not cover so we were able to support him there to make sure he got what he needed to make him successful," said Donald Pippin, Danville Community College Great Expectations Director.

Danville Community College was one of the first to pilot this program and they believe every school in Virginia should have a similar one.

"It's a tremendous thing for our students because we get kids who thought there was no hope, they've had rough rough dramatic lives going through foster home to foster home," said Pippin.

Strawn says Virginia Western and Dabney Lancaster are the only two Community Colleges left that don't have plans to start the program but says there are more than 400 young people in the Roanoke Valley eligible. For Scales and the other 3,000 students in the Commonwealth who've gone through the program, it has been life changing.

"I never really had that one person to push me to bring out the best in me so coming to great expectations I finally got that push that I knew I could be great," said Scales.

"I know that I'm not alone. I have people who are going to back me up. It means that I can get through college, assure myself that I can go on to what I wish to be in the future," said Ashley Erb, a current Great Expectations student at DCC.

Dabney administrators talked about adding Great Expectations but don't have enough interest to pursue it currently. If that changes they will re-visit offering the program.

For more information on Great Expectations visit the website. The program is paid for through the Virginia Foundation for Community College Education and the foundations of the community colleges participating in the program.

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