Embark Georgia receives $1.5M to expand program
This story, written by Charlie Bauder, was originally published on UGA Today on Dec. 9, 2022.
Funding from two foundations will enable a statewide network housed at the University of Georgia to improve educational outcomes for youth who have experienced foster care and/or homelessness.
Embark Georgia, a program housed at the UGA J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development, received $800,000 from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation and $750,000 from the Joseph B. Whitehead Child Well-Being Fund to strengthen and expand the network’s efforts across the state.
Fewer than 10 percent of youth who have experienced foster care earn a college degree, studies show. As adults, they are paid less than employees with a postsecondary education and are more likely to be unemployed.
“The challenges to postsecondary success that young people who have experienced foster care and/or homelessness face can significantly impact their futures,” said Matt Bishop, director of the Fanning Institute. “We are grateful to these organizations for their remarkable investment in Embark Georgia. These resources will allow more young people to succeed in pursuing their educational goals.”
Since 2012, Embark Georgia has worked with agencies across Georgia to increase college access and retention for youth who have experienced foster care or homelessness. Through Embark Georgia, each University System of Georgia and Technical College System of Georgia campus has a point of contact to help identify and provide resources to homeless and former foster students who need help.
“By providing leadership skills training, guidance on best practices and available resources, Embark Georgia empowers leaders on campuses around the state to build the collaborations and partnerships necessary to ensure these students receive the support they deserve and need to succeed,” Bishop said.
This new funding will allow Embark Georgia to provide additional assistance for those designated points of contact, expand collaboration of the overall network by building regional coalitions to share resources and best practices, collect and analyze data to understand better the educational outcomes of these students, and invest in the Embark Summer Precollegiate Program, an annual event on the UGA campus.
“With the backing of these foundations, we will provide technical assistance, which will strengthen our campus and statewide networks and ultimately improve the level of student support,” said David Meyers, Fanning Institute public service faculty and Embark Georgia co-network director. “We are excited to elevate and expand this work to meet the needs of these students and appreciate the partnership of these two organizations. We share a vision for the bright future of these young people.”
This funding already helped support the 2022 Embark Georgia Leadership Conference, held Oct. 25 – 26 at the UGA Center for Continuing Education & Hotel in Athens, Ga.
Around 150 professionals attended this year’s conference, which focused on youth perspective. In addition to a panel discussion with former foster youth who have navigated the college system, attendees participated in a college access simulation activity that demonstrated some of the struggles facing students that don’t have family support systems.
“The simulation was entirely too real,” said Jackie Taylor, a social worker with Dalton Public Schools. “I have known so many students who go to college and face the barriers that we experienced through the simulation and end up dropping out.”
Providing that perspective is a key part of the simulation, said Lori Tiller, Fanning Institute public service faculty and Embark Georgia co-network director.
“The simulation gives people the experience of navigating what is already a complicated process, while encountering the additional hurdles and obstacles that can stand in the way of students graduating,” Tiller said.
Other speakers included statewide and national leaders in the areas of higher education, child welfare, and K-12 education sharing programmatic best practices and policy updates.
“I always find this conference so helpful,” said Ritchie Parker, a case coordinator with the Gwinnett County Department of Child Advocacy and Juvenile Services. “It is so important because working in the field, you still may not always know how to ensure young people get connected to all the available resources and coming to the conference allows us to continue gathering that information.”
Networking is also a key aspect of the conference, said Taylor.
“It is a great opportunity to bring K-12 educators, postsecondary educators and child welfare professionals together to work towards one goal, helping these young people succeed,” she said.