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In The News

Sunny Hills Services Helps Bay Area Foster Youth Gain Foothold in Community College

Although it is nearly 120 years old, Sunny Hills Services, a Tipping Point grantee headquartered in San Anselmo, is still trying new things. This fall, the organization, which began as an orphanage and whose mission remains to help vulnerable children, youth and their families use their strengths to develop supportive relationships and healthy lives, entered a novel collaboration with fellow Tipping Point grantee, the SF State Guardian Scholars Program. The partnership is designed to house and support foster youth attending the College of Marin.
 
Sunny Hills Services’ Guardian Scholars Program Coordinator P’Shana Reddicks + CEO Mary Denton
“We saw a lot of need,”
 
said P’Shana Reddicks, Program Coordinator of Sunny Hills’ new Guardian Scholars Program. “There’s a lot of research showing that foster youth in the U.S. aren’t successful in higher education, specifically at community colleges. We realized we could provide intensive case management to foster youth who choose to go to school, in addition to addressing barriers like not having a place to live, or lacking money for groceries.”
 
Sunny Hills sought guidance to establish the program and began conversations with those running a similar model at San Francisco State University. “The timing worked out perfectly. I was already consulting with Sunny Hills on other work and we were thinking about the best ways to expand our model to other places,” said Sonja Lenz-Rashid, who co-founded the Guardian Scholars Program at SF State in 2005 where participants graduate at a rate higher than the university-wide average and 81% have either earned their degree or are still currently enrolled at SF State.
 
“While many four-year schools in California have started their own Guardian Scholars programs, very few community colleges have. For us, this was exciting opportunity to create a relationship so that eventually there could be a transfer agreement between a community college and SF State,” Lenz-Rashid said.
 
“The fact that Sunny Hills had available housing — something community college students and foster youth alike statistically struggle with, especially here in the Bay Area— really sealed the deal.”
 
One of six new dorm rooms for foster youth at Sunny Hills
The initiative received start-up funding from Emily and David Pottruck and Tipping Point Community. In its pilot year, the program supports six students in the dorm on Sunny Hills’ idyllic campus, located a two-and-a-half mile bus ride to the College of Marin. A resident advisor plans student activities every weekend and is available to offer students the on-site, comprehensive support they need to navigate new academic and financial systems and stay in school. Also through the partnership, Guardian Scholars at SF State and those attending the College of Marin share a mental health clinician.
 
“If it wasn’t for the Guardian Scholars Program, I probably wouldn’t have a place to stay — in fact I’d probably be homeless and living on the street,” said first-year Sunny Hills Services’ Guardian Scholars student, Michael. “This program has given me a place to live, so that I can follow my dreams.”
 
“The partnership would not have happened without Tipping Point,” Lenz-Rashid said. “On top of the funding, they were the ones prompting us, asking where we could take our model to impact more foster youth in the region and the state.”
 
While Guardian Scholars becomes institutionalized at the College of Marin, the team behind the collaboration is already on the lookout for other community college sites that could benefit. With Sunny Hills’ existing scatter housing for foster youth in the East Bay, the cohort model could take root elsewhere.
 
“We’ve had a lot of excitement and interest from high school seniors who want to come next fall,” said Reddicks. “There’s a lot of energy around what we’re trying to do and we will hopefully have the chance to offer even more spots next year.”
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