Guardian Scholarship Recipient Thanks Donors for
Alumna Otani Linn Laster (BBA, 2016) is a recent graduate who is exemplary of the hope that donors are giving Foster Youth through their support for the National University Guardian Scholarship Program.
Ms. Laster was neglected, abused, and then abandoned as a child. While five of her siblings were ultimately adopted, she and her oldest brother spent their formative years in several different foster homes, moving nomadically from family to family.
“I got through it because I was very hard-headed and I believed in the power of learning,” she says. “I saw education as the way out of my predicament.” Even with career counseling and tuition assistance however, the odds were stacked against her.
Statistically, only three percent of foster youth across the nation will complete a bachelor’s or master’s degree. In spite of a number of services available to help youngsters like Ms. Laster succeed, and even though recent reforms have improved the plight of foster home children, it can be an enormous uphill struggle. In fact, eight out of 10 foster youth will experience mental health challenges, including depression, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or suicidal thoughts.
A strong measure of compassion and dedication can help to overcome abandonment and years of emotional scarring. Funded by the generous contributions of dozens of staff, faculty, and alumni, the National University Guardian Scholars Program supports students exiting the foster care system – students like Ms. Laster – who aspire to obtain a university degree.
Guardian Scholarships are offered through a partnership with Promises2Kids, a leading nonprofit organization originally founded in 1981 as the Child Abuse Prevention Foundation of San Diego County. This collaboration with National University and other local learning institutions has resulted in an 85 percent graduation rate in San Diego County, and is helping emancipated foster youth like Ms. Laster to overcome their childhood struggles and achieve broad success as adults.
“I’m very grateful to National University,” says Ms. Laster. “The full scholarship they provided has given me hope, and that hope has helped me to rise above my circumstances. It’s definitely been a big help to me and the lives of many others.”
Equipped with her academic success and an advanced understanding of business principles, Ms. Laster is now dedicated to “paying it forward,” and helping other foster youth make the critical transition to adulthood. She recently founded a project to prepare them for emancipation.
“There is a provider gap,” she explains. “These kids are rarely prepared when they exit the system, and many of them are overwhelmed. My strategy is to organize workshops on education, housing, employment, finance, and health, and develop an emancipation plan based upon those workshops.” Much of what she’s striving to put together is based upon what she’s learned in class as a student at National University.
Ms. Laster currently works full-time as a Youth Services Program Coordinator at Just in Time for Foster Youth. She is also a volunteer and advocate for several other nonprofit organizations, serving as an official ambassador for the Foster Youth in Action Leaders Council, and for Just in Time on the LEAP council at Just in Time for Foster Youth. She is a Guardian Scholar Representative at Promises2Kids, and provides Trauma Informed Care from the Client's Perspective Panel at New Alternatives, Inc.
How does Ms. Laster maintain her bright outlook and energetic level of engagement?
“It goes back to hope,” she explains. “National University has been a big part of that. They haven’t just provided the scholarship; they’ve provide support. I could have all the tuition money in the world, but if I didn’t have the support system that came with it then the money wouldn’t mean anything at all.”