Communities

Working with our neighbors to build a strong community

Advocating for college-bound foster care youth

photo credit: Ciro Cesar/La Opinion

Graduating senior, Jasmine Torres, and USC NAI Scholar ’09 was featured by La Opinion for her work in helping launch the Trojan Guardian Scholars (TGS)–a program designed to provide guidance, support, and empowerment for USC students who have previously been in foster care.

One of her personal missions is to educate others about the experiences of foster youth and their potential to succeed in higher education.

Jasmine is among the 3% of the nations population who graduates college after being part of the foster care system and she has testified in Sacramento and Washington DC to help others in similar situations have the resources they need to achieve higher education.

Jasmine is majoring in Sociology with minors in Children & Families in Urban America and American Studies & Ethnicity. She is a Norman Topping Scholar, an Opportunity Scholar, and a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow. Jasmine plans to continue her education, and hopes to pursue an interdisciplinary Ph.D. program in the future that will allow her to combine her passions for scholarship and policy/practice.

She will keynote this year’s NAI Gala on May 8, 2014 with USC Athletic Director Pat Haden.

English translation of La Opinion article:

At age 13, Jasmine Torres found herself alone on the streets of South Los Angeles , homeless and without family on Christmas Day. Since then she was forced to join the foster care system.

Without the support and encouragement of a family, this young woman from El Salvador knew at a very young age that her ” biggest dream in life ” was to go to college.

But not just any college.

“I spent time with my grandmother on the USC campus as a young girl and thought ‘ I want to come here ‘, without even knowing that this was a college,” she recalls.

“When I realized what it was, it was the only university in the world for me. So if I wanted to attend college, I had to come here ,” says the girl who’s a month from graduating with a degree in Sociology from the prestigious University of Southern California ( USC) .

In Los Angeles, the foster care system of one the largest in the country, with more than 36,000 kids in the system. Many young people face many difficulties as Torres to get ahead, go on to college and overcome new obstacles to graduate.

It is estimated that only 3 % of young people who grew up in foster care manage to graduate from college.

“I often thought, ‘I might not be able to do it’” she recalls as she faced challenges early on when she discovered just months into his studies at USC.

During Winter break, as students were preparing to go home , her roommate asked where she was going , to which he replied that she would stay in her dorm on campus, completely unaware that that was impossible .

“The university would totally close and it was then that I realized I was back on the street, homeless ,” is what she thought before she sought help to avoid falling back into poverty.

TROJAN GUARDIAN SCHOLAR PROGRAM
It was from that moment that she decided to share her past and take the first steps towards the creation of The Guardian Scholar program , now in its first year assisting dozens of students coming from foster care in USC housing during the summer, among many other things .

” It was last summer when Jasmine approached me and started the program . Then we identified 40 students from foster care and about 20 are in the program , “said Dr. George Sanchez , faculty advisor to the program.
As a private university, USC has no obligation to support this program, as required for public schools. ” But we have these students and need the assistance ,” he said .

ON THE STREET
For Torres, she does not like to talk about the reason why she ended up homeless, living in a shelter in Hollywood.

“There were many problems at home and although some people think I did something wrong , the reality is I did not, and the situation was not my fault ,” she said .
“I had the choice to leave my past behind and I fought for [The Guardian Scholar] program so that other youth could follow,” said Torres.