Project Fairness selected its sixth class of Project Fairness scholars in August 2023.
The scholarships are awarded annually to current and former foster youth who are pursuing higher education. Project Fairness provides winners with up to $5,000 to support their participation in an educational program, and mentoring to help them achieve their academic and professional goals.
To meet the 2023 Project Fairness scholars, and learn about our scholarship program, read more on our Scholarships page.
The 2023 Project Fairness scholars (left to right): Vanessa Brunetta, Dominique Cleveland, Cheyenne Paige and Phoebe Wren Wong.
What Is Project Fairness?
Project Fairness, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt, volunteer organization, established in April 2016, to improve the lives of current and former foster youth in the United States. Our mission is to help current and former foster youth achieve safety, permanence, and well-being, with a particular focus on helping these individuals become better educated.
The Problem We Hope To Solve
Each year, tens of thousands of youth emancipate from foster care and are on their own. Without the support of a traditional family, many current and former foster youth struggle through life, often facing poverty, homelessness, early pregnancy, high rates of dropping out of school, chronic medical problems and issues like post-traumatic stress disorder from physical, emotional, sexual or psychological abuse. Here are the harsh statistics:
Research suggests that approximately 50% of the homeless population nationwide have spent time in foster care.
A report from Congressional Research Service shows that approximately 43% of former foster youth experience homelessness by age 21.
Studies show that only a small fraction of those who have been through the foster care system become college educated. We believe that becoming better educated would naturally combat these problems, which is why we focus on providing scholarship and professional mentorship support to these individuals, and the reason why we support tuition waivers and education support services for current and former foster youth (see “Some Specific Issues We Care About” below).
Some Specific Issues We Care About
Foster youth want to go to college, but do not have the resources.
Foster youth are as likely as their peers to have aspirations of attending college, but coming from the system, these young people face serious challenges that most college students don’t have to deal with. These go from paying the costs of an education without the support of parents to staying focused on school while struggling with traumatic events in their families. As a result, only 3-10.8% of current and former foster youth go on to graduate with a bachelor’s degree (graduation rates vary by study depending upon the average age of the former foster youth participating in the study).
Project Fairness is supportive of advocates who work to promote better policies at the local, state, and federal level to help level the playing field for current and former foster youth. We know that these young people have the drive and the skills to succeed if they are given the same opportunities as their peers.
Currently, over half of the states in the country waive tuition fees at state universities for young people coming from foster care. Research has shown that the costs of an education are a critical barrier to foster youth going to college. Waiving tuition fees recognizes a basic reality: that youth coming from the system usually don’t have parents or other family members who can help them pay for school. Project Fairness is supportive of this common-sense policy to give foster youth the same chances as their peers.
Cost is a big obstacle, but there is another obstacle current and former foster youth face once they get to college: a lack of academic, organizational, and emotional support that most young people get from their families. Current and former foster youth who enroll in college are about twice as likely to drop out as their peers, several studies have shown.
Additional support services for foster youth in college make a major difference in their success and their graduation rates. These services include tutoring (such as those offered by At the Table NYC), academic and therapeutic counseling, scholarships, grants and on-campus jobs to cover the costs of living and provide spending money, and year-round housing for those who have no other place to live. Project Fairness supports advocating for states across the country to provide the educational support services necessary to place foster youth on equal footing for success with their peers.
We focus on providing scholarships and professional mentorship support to current and former youth in care, and we are developing other programs to support their successful transition from students to working professionals.
Scholarships: We provide up to $5,000 in scholarship support to our scholarship awardees each academic year (bios of our past awardees can be accessed here: Project Fairness | Scholarships). Unlike many other scholarships that emphasize grades, we place an emphasis on the strength of character of our applicants and recognize that grades do not tell the whole story of our students’ journeys, which often involve overcoming obstacles that many of us do not face. Similarly, our scholarships support a broad range of potential courses of study and do not place many restrictions on the types of educational programs we will support (e.g., we will support vocational school as well as traditional colleges and universities). Instead, our scholarships place an emphasis on the following characteristics of our applicants:
Resilience / Overcoming obstacles
Does the candidate display an ability to overcome obstacles, and recover from losses/setbacks?
Does the candidate demonstrate an ability to maintain a positive outlook in the face of adversity?
Empathy / Helping others
Does this candidate demonstrate an ability to look outside of his or her own circumstances/perspective?
Is this candidate considering the audience in his or her responses?
Does the candidate indicate an ability to be candid with oneself and others in facing the reality of his or her circumstances.
Are the answers to the application questions reasonably articulated?
Do the candidate’s answers indicate a clear thought process?
Potential for success
Are the candidate’s goals clearly articulated?
Are there actionable steps that can be taken towards these goals?
Is the candidate currently taking (and has the candidate already taken) reasonable steps to achieve his or her goals?
We believe that by putting our students in touch with professionals with experience in their chosen fields, our students will gain access to professional insight that they may not receive otherwise. Therefore, we meet with our scholars initially, and upon discussing their career plans, we put our scholars in touch with professionals within our network based on each student’s interests. In doing so, we provide our students with access to valuable social capital that foster youth often cannot access. Overall, we believe these opportunities to discuss career plans with willing professionals in their chosen fields will help advance the careers of our scholars.
First Day at Work:
Many of the students we support excel academically. However, when our students graduate and embark upon their careers, they may not have access to appropriate work clothes for their first day at work or know how to conduct themselves in a professional setting. To this end, we started a program to help select scholars procure their first suit (or, other appropriate work clothes, as the case may be) for their first day at work, and to provide general coaching on how to approach their first day at work.