The program helps foster children achieve their college dreams by:

angel — At 17, high school senior Julie Penafort could have been just another lost child bouncing around California’s foster care system. Instead, he found hope through First Star Academy at the University of California, Los Angeles.

The privately funded national program, which operates on 15 college campuses, protects recruits from — practically speaking — babysitting when they’re high school freshman. It teaches them life skills, and renews their dreams of going to college.

“They’re like family to me,” Penafort said. “He’s made a huge impact on my life.”

Nationally, about half of foster care children graduate high school, and less than 10% go on to college, according to the National Foster Youth Institute. But 97% of First Star Academy seniors graduate high school, and roughly two out of three go on to enroll in four-year colleges.

“We’re providing them with a positive adult role model that’s going to be with them for four years,” said Karina Garcia, director of the First STAR program at UCLA. “Consistency is the key word.”

Peñafort’s mentor, Isail Andrade, 23, is a former foster child who went to seven different middle schools. They have met in person, once a month, for four years. But they’re constantly talking, and making sure Peñafort stays on track.

“I look at him as a brother,” Peñafort said, adding that Andrade taught him how to stand up for himself.

Penafort is now applying to college. His first choice is UCLA.

Andrade said, “I would be proud of whatever she does.”

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