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Courtesy Photo

While at a speaking engagement at Bennett College, A. Monique Hunt (left) meets her Bennett sister, Taylor Turntime.

Bennett College starts foster-care initiative

 

By Wanda Edwards Mobley

Taylor Turntime, a Bennett College freshman whose photograph and story appeared in the New York Times Nov. 23 edition, is ideal student for a new program of the historically black college in Greensboro, North Carolina. The United Methodist college will provide support services to Turntime under its new Foster Care Initiative focused on increasing the number of young women who graduate from high school, college and graduate school. 

Turntime was featured because of a donation she received from the New York Times Neediest Cases Fund to buy a dress and other items for her senior prom in May 2014.

“Many young women in the foster care system need this kind of support to have the motivation to achieve excellence,” said Mary Stephens, interim department chair for political science, social work and sociology at Bennett College. “Through our initiative, we want to provide the experiences, mentoring, life-skills training and role models that will put these women on the trajectory for a rewarding and successful life.”

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, approximately 397,122 children receive foster care. The North Carolina foster care system had 13,951 youth in 2010. Guilford County served approximately 600 of those children.  About half of the foster children graduate from high school, compared to the national average of 70 percent.

Through the initiative, Bennett College wants to enroll more students like Turntime. Stephens, who has worked in the social welfare system for 20 years, is leading the initiative at Bennett, which has four phases.

Phase 1, the pilot phase that began in autumn 2014, seeks to identify potential females currently in foster care for inclusion and orientation.  Phase 2 will include transitions of the Early Middle College Students at Bennett College to Bennett College and Guilford County LINK’s Program to complete their bachelor’s degree. Phase 3 will include career development and support for those wanting to enter the workforce or graduate school. The fourth and final phase will include a longitudinal study to continue research on the progress of the graduates, provide continued support in the community such as resources on employment, housing, financial capability and asset building, and the opportunity to give back to the college.

‘Bennett felt like family’

“The need for a program like this is critical,” said Stephens. “The outcomes for foster youth tend to be poor due to instability from multiple school transfers, participation in special education and the likelihood that they will not take college-preparatory courses.”

Angela Campbell, a 2013 graduate of Bennett College and 2014 graduate of the master’s in social work program at the University of Pittsburgh, said a program similar to the one Bennett College is proposing is responsible for her success.

“I had a very toxic relationship with my foster mother, but it was through Gwen’s Girls, an after- school program and camp, that I was introduced to people and experiences that helped me to grow and develop,” said Campbell. “The program even sent me on a college tour. That’s where I was introduced to Bennett College.”

Campbell said she never had female friends, but experienced sisterhood at Bennett College, where programs, traditions and exposure to nationally renowned personalities instilled values in her. “Attending Bennett College was the best chapter of life,” she said. “Being at Bennett College felt like family. That meant a lot for a person with no strong ties. It made me feel different and a part of something that was very special.”

Campbell said it is important for students in the foster-care system to self-identify when they attend college so that they can seek the support needed to be successful. She also encourages funds to provide the extracurricular experiences that Turntime received from the New York Times.

A. Monique Hunt, a social worker in New York who also grew up in the foster care system, found Bennett College in the 1990s to be the ideal setting for her to thrive. She said an advisor there purchased her evening gown for the president’s ball. When her foster father died, fellow students took up a collection to send her to his funeral.

“The directive was don’t leave Bennett without a degree,” said Hunt, who in 2014 was a recipient of the Hip Hop 4 Life, “Women of Inspirational Award” for her extraordinary commitment to empowering women and girls. Hip Hop 4 Life is a nonprofit in New York City. 

“Bennett College provided the support, encouragement and direction for me to succeed.”

For more information about the Foster System Initiative at Bennett College, contact Dr. Stephens at 336-517-1819.

—Wanda Edwards Mobley, director of public relations and communications, Bennett College.