WellCare Health Plans donates $500K to First Star’s educational program for foster children

The WellCare Community Foundation donated $500,000 to First Star, Inc., a public charity dedicated to improving the lives of children who were victims of abuse and neglect.  

WellCare’s money will go towards First Star’s education program that gives foster students in their teens support to transition into college or a career.

“Our mission is to help our members live better, healthier lives,” Rhonda Mims, executive vice president and chief public affairs officer at WellCare Health Plans, said. “As foster youth age out of the foster care system, they often face critical life decisions related to their health, safety, and education. Because we understand engaged young adults are often healthier young adults, we wanted to partner with First Star to expand its foster youth programming in Arizona and to help high school students achieve a successful transition to healthful, secure adulthood.”

According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s National KIDS COUNT data center, there are about 17,000 children in Arizona’s foster program.

Led by professional staffers and peer mentors, the charity’s support programs are hosted on university and college campuses. Through its immersive residential summers and monthly sessions during the school year, it provides high school aged foster children with encouragement, guidance, and the academic and life skills they need to successfully move on to the next chapter of their lives.

“In 2011 [we] initiated the First Star Academy program in partnership with UCLA, in an effort to improve the educational outcomes of high school aged foster youth, as we believe education is the best ladder out of foster youths’ often dire circumstances,” Robin Winston, First Star’s executive director, said. “Foster youth represent the most at-risk populations, after aging out of the system, many find themselves without resources and as a result end up homeless, incarcerated or at best working minimum wage jobs. Less than ten percent enter college, and fewer than three percent earn a degree. My education opened countless doors for me and having grown up with a family that could provide resources and support to attain a world-class education, I wanted to help ensure that foster youth could access the same.”

According to Mims, who also serves as president of the WellCare Community Foundation, nine out of ten participants have enrolled in higher educations.

First Star’s Arizona program is held on Arizona State University’s campus. It works with Access ASU, a program designed to “ensure all students graduate high school and are ready to thrive in college and the 21st-century workforce.”

The First Star ASU Academy “engages a cohort of 30 high school students in a variety of learning opportunities including earning college credit for academic coursework, independent study, and four-week residential summer experience.”

Students will also have access to cultural and social activities as well as education advocacy and individualized support during the school year.

“At ASU, we believe our institution is best measured by the range and diversity of those we serve and how well they succeed. We demonstrate that commitment through our Access ASU program, which is focused on helping to ensure all of our state’s youth have the information and resources they need to pursue their education after high school,” said Edmundo Hidalgo, vice president of education outreach partnerships at Arizona State University.

According to First Star, it will be able to more than double the number of foster children they are able to support with the donation from WellCare.

It will enable ASU to expand the program beyond just Maricopa county, opening enrolment in Gila, Pinal, Mohave, Coconino, Apache, Navajo, and Yavapai counties.

“We believe we can help make a difference in the health and well-being of Arizona’s foster youth and their communities by giving them secure and supportive spaces in which to learn and grow, and by facilitating strong educational employment opportunities as they transition out of the foster care system,” Mims said.

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Emily Richardson

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