From foster care to med school – help more youth like Soraya follow their dreams

When starting college or university, most young people have support from their families to cover living expenses like rent, food and transportation. Unfortunately, these supports are not available to everyone, including former youth in care.

Youth like Soraya Bellou 

From foster care to medical school 

Growing up, life could be challenging and unstable for Soraya and her family. While she loved being at school and cherished time with her friends, at home things were chaotic. Her family grappled with divorce and the stress of mental health challenges. She was placed in foster care.

Despite these challenges, Soraya completed a bachelor’s degree in biology at the University of British Columbia, one of the most prestigious post-secondary institutions in Canada. She has now completed her MCAT exams, and is awaiting results of her applications to medical school. 

soraya bellou

While at UBC, Soraya received support with her living expenses from the Youth Futures Education Fund, helping make her dream of a post-secondary education, possible. 

“When you’re young, you have big dreams,” says Soraya. “Dreams of graduating high school, going to prom with your crush,  moving out of your family’s house and going to university – all with support from your family.  But it’s different for kids in foster care.  

“While I was getting my degree in biology at UBC, United Way Youth Futures Education Fund gave me the wraparound supports I needed,” she adds. “It relieved the stress of living expenses so I could focus on school. Now, I can continue to pursue my dream of becoming a physician and giving back to others who have experienced difficulties in life.” 

The cost of school beyond tuition 

While tuition waivers from the Province of B.C. go a long way to supporting youth who age out of care, unfortunately tuition is not the only cost of getting a post-secondary education.  

Basic living expenses for students – including rent, phone, internet, transportation and food – are almost $20,000 per year, on average.  

Most young people entering college or university have support from their families to cover these costs. In fact, 92% of B.C. parents with children under 30, support them financially. 

The Youth Futures Education fund is here to help former youth in care, who often don’t have access to the same supports. In fact, the most common way students use Youth Futures funding is to buy books for school. 

The program is seeing incredible results. Only 4% of students who use the Youth Futures Education Fund withdraw from their studies – an incredibly low drop-out rate for students with such complex barriers to post-secondary education.

Strengthening supports for youth across B.C. 

soraya bellou and kim winchell at CTV morning live

Soraya Bellou (second from right) and Kim Winchell (far right) talking about the Youth Futures Education Fund at CTV Morning Live, Sept 4.

“The Youth Futures Education Fund provides former youth in care with the support and guidance to believe in themselves, and to realize they can be successful in post-secondary education,” says Kim Winchell, Director of Social Impact at United Way of the Lower Mainland.

The Youth Futures Education Fund is one more innovative way United Way is supporting local residents and responding to emerging needs in our communities. 

This fund was made possible by innovative partnerships from many sectors across the province, including Coast Capital Savings and the Province of B.C. 

The fund is governed by an advisory committee comprised of post-secondary institutions, government partners, and philanthropic groups. The fund, originally established in 2015, continues thanks to the leadership and contributions of Coast Capital Savings, United Way of the Lower Mainland, the Province of B.C., the Office of B.C.’s Representative for Children and Youth, Provincial Employees Community Services, Ralmax Properties, the VCC Faculty Association, the Victoria Foundation and the Vancouver Foundation. Government ministries, individuals and foundations have also contributed to the Youth Futures Education Fund, including United Way Central and Northern Vancouver Island, the B.C. Ministry of Advanced Education, Skills and Training; and the B.C. Ministry of Children and Family Development. The fund is housed at the Vancouver Foundation and managed by United Way of the Lower Mainland.

Are you pursuing an education after experiencing foster care in B.C.? Visit the financial aid office at your post-secondary institution to apply. 

Learn how YFEF has also received support from the Government of B.C. 

Help support more youth in our community, click here.