The campus of the College of St. Joseph is quieter than usual -- most students are home on summer break. But for sophomore Peter Guetti, his dorm is his home.
"I've sort of adopted the faculty here as more of my family now," he said.
Guetti grew up in the state's foster care system. He always knew he wanted to go to college, but wasn't sure he could.
"It was a little difficult trying to figure out how I was going to pull off going to college," he said, "and where I would go after college semesters ended and breaks."
A case manager suggested CSJ, which was beginning a new program for kids like him called STEPS -- Students Taking Effective Paths to Success.
"We don't know of any other program like it in New England," college president Frank Miglorie said.
Miglorie said that while a few schools offer special scholarships to kids transitioning out of the foster care system, the STEPS program is unique in its cluster of services. Students get counseling and year-round housing on campus. And they pay nothing up front -- they get grants from the college, the Vermont Student Assistance Corp., and the federal government; and the state Dept. Of Children and Families pays for their living expenses during summer and semester breaks. After four years, students who obtain their bachelor's degrees in the STEPS program will owe about $19,000 in guaranteed student loans.
"This is a great opportunity for these young people who, quite honestly, have slipped between the cracks over the years," Miglorie said. "It's really a population that has some very specific needs. There's some great potential in the population to be successful, but unfortunately, there haven't been programs set up to accommodate them the way this program is."
Guetti was one of six students in the program's first year. This fall, there will be fifteen.
"The financial aspect is really important to me," Guetti said. "Since I don't really have parents supporting me, having the college kind of make that up for me is awesome. Being able to stay here in the summer, not having to worry about having a place to live in the summer is great."
A state task force on transitioning youth out of foster care had identified a need for a program like this. School officials said that resonated with its Catholic mission and small size of just 500 students.
"It's more than just coming to school, it's becoming part of this extended family here on campus," Miglorie said.
They hope the program could be a model for other schools and states, helping foster kids become successful adults.
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