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State grant will support foster youth at Virginia's community colleges –

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Jennifer Brobbey of Stafford, a Germanna Community College grad, was helped by the Great Expectations program.
Jennifer Brobbey of Stafford participated in the Great Expectations program.
Jennifer Brobbey went into foster care at age 16.
She was living with her father in Manassas when she went into the system, but social services could not find a foster placement for her there, so she moved to Stafford County.
The transition was rough.
“I got into trouble [at school] a lot,” Brobbey, now 23, said. “I was just always so mean. But people didn’t understand my story, my upbringing. I felt misunderstood.”
At age 19, Brobbey was renting a room in a relative’s house. She was eager to improve her situation, so she enrolled in Germanna Community College, but she couldn’t stay motivated or focused enough to navigate the system.
She didn’t know how to apply for financial aid, what classes to take or how to balance school with her part-time job.
Brobbey met with her counselor. After learning that Brobbey came from the foster care system, the counselor connected her with Great Expectations.
A program of the Virginia Community College System—which oversees the state’s 23 community colleges—Great Expectations helps students who have experienced foster care continue their education and transition to adulthood.
The program, which was developed in 2008 by the Virginia Foundation for Community College Education, or VFCCE, pairs students with adult coaches to provide guidance and motivation, as well as financial assistance for tuition, housing and basic needs.
A new $1 million grant from the General Assembly, announced this summer, will expand Great Expectations to every community college in the state.
The grant was included in a series of budget amendments approved by the General Assembly in June. The nonprofit child policy and advocacy organization Voices for Virginia’s Children lobbied for the amendment.
“Turning 18 years old makes us legal adults, but that doesn’t mean anyone has adulthood figured out yet,” said Allison Gilbreath, policy and programs director at Voices for Virginia’s Children, in a June 23 press release about the grant. “The Great Expectations program provides transition-age youth from foster care with the life skills, lessons, and whatever resources they need while pursuing a college degree.”
According to the Virginia Department of Social Services, about 36% of the 5,240 children in foster care last year were teens between the ages of 13 and 18.
In 2019, 18% of children exiting foster care aged out of the system without being adopted. Those who age out are at increased risk of adverse outcomes such as homelessness and substance abuse and have less than a 3% chance of earning a college degree at any point in their lives, according to the National Foster Youth Institute.
Great Expectations aims to improve the outcomes for former foster youth.
The graduation rate among Great Expectations students is three times the national average for those who have experienced foster care, according to the VFCCE, and more than 1,253 degrees, diplomas or certificates have been awarded since the program’s inception.
Seventeen students were enrolled in the Great Expectations program at Germanna this spring, said Jane Teresi, the community college’s social worker.
The enrolled students have an average GPA of 3.09 and seven of them completed a Germanna credential this spring, Teresi said.
Teresi started working at Germanna last year and said her goal is to “more proactively engage with community partners in identifying foster youth who could benefit from the many Germanna programs.”
That includes connecting with local organizations such as Children’s Services of Virginia, Children’s Home Society, Embrace, Intercept, People Places and United Methodist Family Services, as well as local social services departments.
Brobbey completed a licensed practical nurse program in 2021 and in May of this year, received her associate’s degree.
In addition to the support and motivation she received from her coach, Teresi’s predecessor Taylor Landrie, Brobbey said the program helped her by connecting her with other former foster youth.
“I wasn’t really the best at making friends in high school,” Brobbey said. “This was a smaller community of people that I could relate to more.”
Brobbey’s next step is enlisting in the Navy. She will head to basic training in early August and also plans to continue her college education.
“It’s something I always wanted to do, but I’ve been afraid because I didn’t know what to expect,” she said. “Great Expectations and Germanna gave me the motivation to enlist. Now I know I can do this. I can start something and finish it.”
Without Great Expectations, Brobbey isn’t sure she would have finished her community college education.
“I’m just so thankful and so grateful to everybody who put the effort into making sure we succeed,” she said. “I don’t think that you guys realize just how much we need you guys to be there. We need somebody to motivate us. We don’t have that at home.”
Brobbey said she’s confident that Great Expectations can help other former foster youth.
“I hope, I hope, I hope that it never goes away,” she said. “It has helped me tremendously. I know that it will help anybody else that needs it.”
Adele Uphaus–Conner:
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I have covered education, local government and social services for the Free Lance-Star since 2016.
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Jennifer Brobbey of Stafford, a Germanna Community College grad, was helped by the Great Expectations program.
Jennifer Brobbey of Stafford participated in the Great Expectations program.
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