GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Around 10,000 children across the state of Michigan are in the foster care system. Elaina Marcum knows the numbers because she is one of them.
She knows only around 70% of kids in foster care graduate from high school, only 10% apply and are accepted to college and less than 3% graduate. It’s the numbers that motivate her.
“Being a college student means that I can be a change agent and an example for the people in my community,” Marcum said. “Being a college student means that I can be successful, I can achieve a higher education. Being a college student means to me that I can be someone different who came from a rough environment and excel my life to something different.”
Marcum was 13 when she was placed in foster care. She admits, initially, she was a runner and didn’t find a home she felt was a good fit. Like many children in foster care, she struggled with instability, a lack of resources and trauma. Again, she used her environment as a motivating factor in her life.
“It pushed me into all these different activities. It made me want to stay at school. It made me want to intrigue myself in something different. I needed something to take my mind off of what I experienced,” Marcum said. “Different is good. Different is challenging. Challenging is good.”
The 20-year-old is now a passionate student at Grand Valley State University studying Recreational Therapy. She wants to give others in her community the combination of tools that helped her succeed.
“My therapy was recreation. My therapy was all the different activities that I was inside, all the different events that I could attend. And from those things, it became therapeutic for me,” Marcum said. “So I found something that I could study, something that I could implement in my life and help change other people lives.”
She said it was the very first scholarship she received, the Fostering Futures Scholarship from Michigan Education Trust, that gave her the opportunity to chase her dreams.
“This scholarship allowed me to know that there’s somebody out there who believes in you, there’s somebody out there who’s willing to take that risk for you,” Marcum said. “There’s somebody out there who’s willing to support you, who sees your dream, and who’s able to support that.”
The Fostering Futures Scholarship Trust Fund has been a part of MET’s outreach for the last 11 years. They’ve given scholarships to more than 1,400 students with foster care experience in the state.
“We have students at this point, because we’ve been around for a while, who have applied for and been awarded the scholarship one or two years and gotten that associate or four years and gotten that bachelor’s degree,” MET Executive Director Diane Brewer said. “We have our first doctor, our first medical doctor. So we know it’s working.”
The $3,000 scholarships help to remove barriers to education, whether it’s tuition, books or any other college expense. Since 2012, they’ve raised over $1,300,000 for the statewide scholarship through donations, sponsorships, and other programs. One of those programs is this Friday, April 14 at Frederik Meijer Gardens. The fundraising dinner starts at 5:30 p.m. with a reception and dinner and program to follow. Tickets are $100 each or $800 a table — 100% of the proceeds go to the scholarship trust fund.
“I’d certainly love to see people come out and enjoy the night but learn more about this whole process and who these youth are and who their college coaches are, and who their supporters are,” Brewer said. “It is helping them fulfill a dream.”
That dream Marcum is chasing wouldn’t be possible without the Fostering Futures support. It was the catalyst that helped open doors of opportunity, other scholarships and ensuring the accomplishment that when she graduates with her degree, she will be 100% college-debt free.
“A lot of times when you come from foster care, you don’t have that stability and you don’t have security. It’s one of the most insecure places that you can be as a child — without a home, without a stable home, without a stable family.
She said the MET fund provides that sense of security.
“To know if there’s nothing else you have them,” Marcum said. “To know that you have that behind you, it keeps you secure, it keeps you stable, and it motivates you to keep going, to keep trying and to keep sharing your goals, to keep sharing your outcome and to keep sharing your story.”