LaBrittany Kroger, right, Jaelyn Romero, center, and Shaqueshia Taylor, laugh while participating in a team building exercise as part of a Kennesaw State week long residential summer camp called “GEAR’ing UP for College,” on Thursday, July 11, 2019, in Kennesaw. ELIJAH NOUVELAGE/SPECIAL TO THE AJC

KSU program prepares foster youth for college

Janae’ Brown is 16 years old and knows she wants to be a physician. But until she attended the GEAR’ing UP for College summer camp this week at Kennesaw State University, she had little idea of how to achieve her dream.

The rising 11th grader from Macon was among 15 students at the camp, which teaches foster and homeless youth how to prepare for college. The students spent July 7-11 living on campus learning about resume building, ACT/SAT prep, applying for scholarships and the college admissions process. They also took part in workshops, college and career fairs and team-building activities.

Marcy Stidum, Campus Awareness & Resources Empowerment Services director at KSU, said the program attracts students from Cobb, Clayton, Fulton, Bibb, Houston, Floyd and Polk counties.

Stidum said they invited more teens, but some had transportation barriers that prevented them from traveling. However, the organization is now working with ride share service Lyft to help students get to the camp. One mentor used Lyft to pick up a camper in North Georgia.

“We’ve been very creative in overcoming that transportation issue,” Stidum said.

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When students arrive on campus, Stidum said they often wonder if the program will help them because “they never thought they would go to college.” As the days progress, the campers begin to have a positive outlook on continuing their education, she said. Having a university invest in their success, Stidum said, is important for campers since they often deal with issues such as frequent changes of homes or not having enough to eat.

Karen Boettler, assistant director of leadership development in KSU’s Department of Student Leadership and Service, said during the five-day period campers become more confident and the quieter ones begin to express themselves in activities. They also develop the communication skills they need to be successful in college and the workplace, she said.

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Janae’ learned about the camp through another GEARUP Georgia partner, the Orange Duffel Bag Initiative. That program also helps at-risk teens, including those who are in foster care, achieve their educational goals. Janae’ said the program appealed to her because she wanted to learn about the scholarships she will need to attend college.

“I was open to it because I thought it would be fun and it is,” she said.

When she arrived in Kennesaw, Janae’ said she was nervous, but was quickly put at ease by mentors who she said made sure she and other campers were comfortable. She said she enjoyed participating in activities with other students. She also was pleased to learn she could come back and volunteer with younger campers once she is enrolled in college. Janae’ said she hopes other students juggling real-life responsibilities will have an opportunity to take advantage of what could be a life-changing experience.

“You will learn a lot and meet good people,” she said.

The camp is funded by a GEARUP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) grant administered by the University System of Georgia. KSU is one of 20 college partners with GEARUP Georgia, and holds four programs throughout the year.

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