For Kelly Scott, one of the most difficult aspects of being a foster child was hearing the reactions of others when they found out.
“A lot of people ask ‘What did your people do?’ as if something terrible must have happened to you,” said Scott, an 18-year-old who just graduated from Lincoln High School.
“For some people in the system, becoming a foster child might have been the best thing that happened in their life,” she said. “For others, it’s a pretty touchy subject.”
Last week at Pacific Lutheran University, she was one of 100 foster children from around the state who took part in the “Make It Happen” program — a three-day, two-night on-campus event aimed at helping them prepare for the college experience.
Scott had also been awarded one of 50 Washington State Governors’ Scholarships for Foster Youth earlier in the week — as much as $4,000 she’ll use to attend the University of Washington Tacoma next fall.
“I was a little nervous I wouldn’t make friends at the event this week, but I felt close to everyone,” she said. “No one had to be embarrassed about foster care — we’ve all been there.”
The concept behind “ Make It Happen” is to put foster children in a comfortable situation, then help them navigate the collegiate system they’re about to enter.
“We prep children aged 15-21 in independent living skills, financial aid,” said program director Katie Kaiser. “We had sessions on college essay-writing, managing stress, how to find the resources they’ll need.”
For the youngest participants, college remains a few years away. For Scott, it will begin in September, a road toward the culmination of a dream.
“I wanted to go to college my whole life, but until recently I didn’t know if I’d be able to go,” she said.
That made her no different than thousands of other high school seniors, she insisted.
“I wouldn’t call mine a success story or unique,” Scott said. “A lot of kids go through things to get to college. My issues are no different than anyone else.”
Those who know Scott and her story, including Lincoln drama teacher Julie Summers, might disagree.
“Kelly is a complex young woman, tremendously motivated,” Summers said. “She’s fearless. She defies the stereotypes we have for foster children. She never felt wanted. She had no one to speak up for her, so she spoke up for herself.
“A lot of kids deserve recognition they never get. She got some this week, and I’m so proud of her.”
The middle of three children, Scott was 12 when she was moved with her younger brother from the home of her parents to that of a paternal grandmother she didn’t know well.
“My parents had a toxic relationship, and my father didn’t want to go through all the things necessary to change,” Scott said.
A year later, she and her younger brother were moved to another foster home; her older brother was already living on his own.
“I was never in an abusive situation, but there was a lot of biological favoring there,” Scott said. “It wasn’t a happy situation.”
About the time Scott was 16, her grandmother was able to take her and her brother back. Scott spent her last two years of high school living with her grandmother in Tacoma.
“My little brother still lives there, and she adopted him,” Scott said. “I turned 18 and opted out of her foster care and signed up for extended foster care. That gives me the funds that would have gone to a foster parent and, until I’m 21, I’m able to use it toward independent housing.”
She didn’t waste time. She has moved into a rented room in the home of her boyfriend’s mother.
When she begins classes at UWT, she plans to major in psychiatric mental health. Thanks to the governors’ scholarship and others she earned, she won’t need a personal loan.
Her interest in psychiatry became more personal when her older brother was diagnosed with schizophrenia, Scott said, but she has always wanted to help others.
“I do see my parents, though it’s not the healthiest relationship,” she said. “They’re more like friends than parents. But we can talk now.
“When I was younger, I thought taking me away from my parents was some conspiracy. I realize now it was for the best interest of me and my brother. I’m comfortable with that now. I’m comfortable with myself.”