By Brenda Woolley
Brenda Woolley is a member of TNOYS’ Young Adult Leadership Council (YALC). The YALC is a 9-month training program that empowers youth who have experienced homelessness or systems involvement to be advocates and storytellers in their community.
During the 87th Texas Legislative Session, Brenda testified before the Human Services Committee on behalf of legislation that would support youth aging out of foster care in obtaining their college degrees.
In the short time that I’ve been a member of the Young Adult Leadership Council at Texas Network of Youth Services, I learned how to use my lived expertise with foster care to advocate for the needs of foster youth and discuss how the foster care system could be improved.
Right now, there’s a bill in Texas that could greatly help foster youth aging out of care. The bill would help make sure they can receive college credit for completing the Preparation for Adult Living Program (PAL program) – an intense, weeklong program about transitioning to adulthood to help foster youth like me learn important life skills we had not learned in care, and help us realize what we could do with our lives after care. By allowing them to get college credit for PAL, it ensures foster youth can lock in their tuition waiver if they are not ready to start college before the age of 25.
I shared the following testimony with the House Human Services Committee on March 23.
I’m a former foster care youth that has benefited greatly from the PAL program and the tuition waiver for youth in foster care.
I always dreamt of getting a college degree. Unfortunately, when I was in foster care, I did not know how or if I could even afford to attend college.
After graduating high school, I took PAL classes where I learned many life skills like money management, and making healthy decisions along with visiting college campuses like Texas Tech University, which was the university I had always wanted to attend. Thanks to the PAL program, I was able to see what could be and I applied for Texas Tech and got accepted.
Starting college right after high school and without much preparation for what college life would encompass, forced me to figure it out as I went. During my first year at Texas Tech, I struggled to keep up in my classes because I was also dealing with the trauma from my past experiences as I had to go to court several times for my foster care case – on top of working a full-time job to pay basic expenses. It was a lot to manage all of these things on my own and as a result, my mental health and grades suffered.
I’m persistent and hard-working though. I pushed myself to work harder in my second year of college and improve every year after. I went from a 2.0 GPA during my first year of college to graduating with a 3.7 last spring and earning a bachelor’s degree in Global Studies and Political Science.
Now, I’m pursuing my master’s degree in Public Administration. Without the PAL program or using the tuition waiver for youth who have aged out of care, this would not be my reality. However, a break in between high school and college would have made a major positive difference in my life.
While I was able to get my degree, I would have greatly benefited from at least a year or two to get my bearings and sort out my legal issues related to my foster care case so that I could have been better prepared to attend college and succeed there from the get-go. That additional time to prepare me and work through my past trauma would have helped me avoid struggling so hard during my first year. My mental health and grades would have benefited too.
I know many foster youth struggle after they age out of care and need more time to overcome their past trauma and be better situated before attending college and many lose out on the opportunity to go to college because life gets in the way or they aren’t ready for the intensity of even just one college course before 25.
That is why this bill should pass in the Texas legislature to help other foster care youth like me achieve their dreams of attending college without being rushed there so they aren’t set up to fail.