For social sciences alumnus Kimberly Snodgrass,’09, foster care offered an escape from what seemed an otherwise bleak future. For the first 10 years of her life, she was virtually homeless as her alcoholic, drug-addicted mother shuffled her and her four siblings between motel rooms, shelters and, ultimately, foster care.

Now, 13 years later and armed with an undergraduate degree from UCI, a master’s from Harvard, and $50,000 in funding from Pepsi, she’s returning the favor. 

Snodgrass’s foster-youth college and life skills preparation program, Realizing Every Action Creates Hope (REACH), finished in first place in the Pepsi Refresh Project’s October entries and was selected for funding.  Its aim: to increase foster children’s high school graduation rates by 80% through mentorship activities, life skills workshops, college preparation coaching, and scholarship funding.  The program is being run out of Boston where Snodgrass currently resides, having recently completed her master’s degree in risk and prevention at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. The REACH program has also partnered with Together We Rise, a non-profit organization in Southern California that programs for underprivileged children, and is currently serving 19 students.

“There are roughly 750,000 kids that pass through the U.S. foster care system each year, and there are more than 463,000 kids in foster care on any given day . Many of these children, due to the numerous circumstances of being in care, have high tendencies to have difficulties in school,” says Snodgrass.  “Of these children, only 40-50% actually graduate high school, and only 1-2% graduate from college.”

Snodgrass realizes that without the assistance she received through foster care, great teachers, and a great adoptive family, she could have easily been on the bottom half of these statistics. 

“Before being placed in foster care, I can remember being left to care for my younger brother and sister for days at a time. That’s how I learned to cook for my siblings,” Snodgrass says. “I never attended school for more than two weeks at a time because we were always on the run to the next place to sleep.”

That all changed when she was 11 and placed with the Snodgrass family, along with her two younger siblings. Through the help of Orangewood Children’s Home in Orange, they joined the couple’s four children and two other foster children, all of whom the couple adopted five years later.

With a stable home life and extra help from her teachers, Snodgrass caught up academically with her peers, graduating from high school with honors. She also played in the school band, played club roller hockey with all of her siblings, managed multiple school clubs, all while working at KWD Uniforms across the street from La Habra High School to pay for her own car and other “necessities” of a typical teenager.

She was accepted to UCI where, as an Orangewood Guardian Scholar - a program that helps former foster children pursue a college education- she participated in Global Connect, Jumpstart, and the Community Service Leadership Program, three social sciences programs she says that allowed her to give back to the community while preparing her for a career in public service. She completed the social sciences’ five-week, research-intensive Summer Academic Enrichment Program (SAEP) where she pursued in-depth research on the national foster care system, a topic she further explored at Princeton University’s competitive Public Policy and International Affairs Junior Summer Institute program, and through her graduate work at Harvard.  Somewhere in her free time, she authored a children’s book and her autobiography, I Am a Foster Child, and That’s Okay With Me and Things Happen for a Reason: Even Foster Care and Adoption, while working as a teaching assistant at UCI and the Early Childhood Learning Center, and as an intern with Orangewood’s CEO.

“It is my mission to give back to the community of foster children,” says Snodgrass. “I have been blessed with so much in my life, and I can only hope to bring inspiration and hope to others.”  

— Heather Wuebker, School of Social Sciences
 

 

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