Adeola Adeife considers herself one of the lucky few, a teenager who aged out of the foster-care system after high school graduation but was fortunate to have been accepted into a four-year university.
So in the fall of 2009, when UC Santa Barbara’s dorms became the Nigeria native’s home, Adeife wondered why she still didn’t feel as though she had found a family.
Adeife moved to the United States with her dad at age 9, and then bounced back and forth between temporary homes in Sacramento and Atlanta before she ended up in foster care for good.
Her answer came freshman year in the form of UCSB’s Guardian Scholars Program, a network of resources the university offers to all 150 of its students who have aged out of foster care.
Suddenly, seeing fellow students open care packages from their families didn’t sting so much, and the feeling of being alone on an island went away.
“UCSB has been one of the best experiences I’ve ever had,” said Adeife, now 23 and set to graduate in June. “Overall, the Guardian Scholars Program made it that much better.”
The program offered Adeife much-needed family support, simple advice from an adult or elder that many students with parents or guardians can take for granted.
The program has steadily grown since Adeife joined four years ago, this year serving about 55 foster freshmen students.
Holidays can be the toughest for foster students, many of whom are without family to turn to or who have relatives who live too far away to visit.
Seeing a need, University of California Regent Hadi Makarechian and his wife, Barbara, made a $100,000 contribution to the program in 2012 and 2013 and helped start an annual holiday tradition.
The Makarechians hosted a holiday party for the UCSB and Santa Barbara City College Guardian Scholars last year, and threw another celebration — complete with Christmas gifts — earlier this month.
The couple has also recently pledged another $500,000 to establish an endowment for ongoing support for the program, which is currently run by volunteers.
Adeife, who is a peer adviser in the program, said she enjoys pointing younger students to proper resources for academics, advocacy, career opportunities, and housing and financial aid assistance.
“I love what I do. That’s what I hope to do with the rest of my life,” she said, referring to a future career as a marriage and family therapist.
Sometimes someone keeping tabs on you can make all the difference, Adeife added.
“We are really a support group,” she said. “More important, we are a family. We do whatever it takes to help students excel in school. The last thing that any students want is to be reminded of their past again.
"We’re so grateful for all the donors, especially those who donated this Christmas season. The more funding we have, the more students we’re able to help.”