Moving to Nelson with her cats, enjoying the breathtaking scenery of this unique little town, and helping other kids who are struggling: that’s Yanna’s ideal picture of her future, and her eyes light up when she describes it with a shy smile. Although it’s a simple plan today, it used to be a distant dream.
As a former youth in care aging into community, Yanna was in the BC Government’s Agreements with Young Adults (AYA) Program. Thanks to fundamental help from the Youth Futures Education Fund (YFEF), which provides support for basic living expenses like rent, food, and technology for students who were previously in government care, Yanna can make plans again. YFEF has assisted Yanna to overcome financial challenges while pursuing her diploma at the Health and Exercise Sciences Program at University of British Columbia Okanagan (UBCO) in Kelowna, which is a dream come true for her.
Yanna lives in Penticton and originally wanted to move near campus, but with the rising rent costs and inflation she was required to stay in her home city and commute. This meant more hours lost with distance and traffic, and less time to work and increase her income.
“Once I got into full-time school I couldn’t work as much, and I didn’t have enough money to get food. It was really tough for a while. It came to a point where I had to choose between going to school or having dinner,” says Yanna.
United Way British Columbia – Working with communities in BC’s Interior, Lower Mainland and Central & Northern Vancouver Island (United Way BC) recognizes that it is imperative to ensure that former youth in care have access to the essential support they need as they pursue their post-secondary dreams and look to create the future they deserve with equal opportunities. In an ever-changing world, YFEF is committed to being a consistent, low barrier, and accessible resource for students in need who don’t have the family support system of many other BC youth; in essence, a much needed helping hand.
The essential basics
The cost of attending college is more than just what meets the eye. On top of tuition, there is almost $26,400 a year required for necessities such as rent, phone, internet, transit, and food, not to mention educational expenses like textbooks, internet, and computers. Over 80% of BC families with kids ages 19-28 support them financially, but this support is often not an option for former youth in care, like Yanna.
To help address this situation, YFEF partners with 27 academic institutions across British Columbia to offer financial support to youth aging out of government care so they can pursue post-secondary education. The fund is mostly used for wrap-around support like rent, groceries, technology, utilities, and transportation. The impact of these dollars on the lives of these students is enormous.
“Without YFEF, there were days when I wasn’t sure I’d be able even to have one meal. My nails were getting brittle and thin, and my hair was falling out,” Yanna remembers. “I was constantly stressed about not being able to eat every day and losing my hair. Receiving this fund was vital for me to keep studying, but also take care of my health.”
In 2022, YFEF invested almost $630,000 to support 492 students across British Columbia. “The funds are allocated on a needs basis, and in 2021/22, amounts allocated ranged from as large as $6,500 to as small as $20. With this important support, only 4% of students attending post-secondary institutions on a tuition waivers program and receiving Youth Futures funding withdraw from their studies – a testament to the crucial role YFEF is playing in their academic success,” says Maureen Young, Vice-President, Social Purpose at Coast Capital and Chair of the Youth Futures Education Fund.
Changing futures in BC
Thanks to the support of partners like the Province of British Columbia, the Office of the Representative for Children and Youth, Coast Capital, the Vancouver Foundation, and United Way British Columbia – Working with communities in BC’s Interior, Lower Mainland and Central & Northern Vancouver Island (United Way BC) and its donors, more former youth in care are achieving their educational dreams and pursuing vocations and careers that matter to them.
“Over 2,500 students have received over $3.3 million in YFEF funding thanks to the generosity of our donors and partners. Each of those students has a story of resiliency and determination. United Way British Columbia is proud to be part of a partnership that supports youth to success,” says Jasica Grewal, Director, Community Impact and Investment at United Way BC.
In 2017, the BC government developed the Provincial Tuition Waiver Program that waived tuition and fees for former youth in care between 19 and 26. Effective August 1, 2023, this expanded tuition waiver will be made available to all BC former youth in care at any age as part of StrongerBC’s Future Ready plan to make education and training more accessible and affordable. Thanks to United Way BC’s ongoing advocacy and efforts by business leaders, educators, and advocates in the non-profit sector on behalf of all former youth in care, the age limit will be lifted, allowing all who desire to pursue their education to do so in a secure and healthy manner.
Being placed in care is challenging and has significant impacts that require inner fortitude and strength, but no matter how determined and resilient they are, former youth in care shouldn’t have to navigate these challenges alone. “For me, YFEF means safety and the ability to live and have a backup. Not having a family is not only about lacking emotional support but also the financial bounce back, which is decisive when we’re trying to build our life from scratch,” Yanna says.
“YFEF supports former youth in care during a critical time,” says Jasica. “These young people don’t often have the same family support available to them as their peers. Young people facing adversity head-on should not have to put their dreams on hold due to affordability and access. This fund supports former youth in care to reach their post-secondary goals, providing a strong start for their future.”
As an introvert, Yanna rejoices in having her own space for the first time in her life. “Growing up, I didn’t feel very safe. I am so happy to be able to afford my own place now. I’m very fortunate!”
Yanna has been coaching children’s soccer for three to four hours a week, which perfectly suits her schedule so she can keep focusing on her education. “I plan to have my Master’s, either in Occupational Therapy or as a Speech Therapist, and work with children with special needs or disabilities. I love learning and I want to help people and make a difference. YFEF helped me continue my dream so I can live a fulfilled life.”
Yanna has chosen to grow stronger from her challenges. Now she wants to give back, be there for people in need, and make other lives better. Let’s be there for her!
Help more youth dream and conquer
Over 2,500 students have received funds since YFEF was first established in 2014, but more young people need support to be successful. By donating, you are helping youth build a solid foundation to approach their education, build their futures, and live a life they desire and deserve.
Help youth like Yanna succeed. Donate today.