Matthew Thomson didn’t think he could make it. Any interest in academics was practically non-existent for him during the first three years of high school, and his grades reflected that. How could he possibly get accepted to his lifelong dream school, The University of Texas at Austin?
Feeling that his senior year would be his last chance to make his dream happen, Matthew decided to get involved with the Center of Law and Global Policy Development at his South Carolina high school. The mission for his project? To identify a system that he felt should be improved. He looked for a topic where psychology, one of his personal interests, and governing policy merged—and that’s when the foster care system came to his mind. He dove in and researched the system’s issues.
Matthew’s project, and his interest in foster care, didn’t end after his final presentation. He continued studying government policy and constitutional law and went on to intern at the South Carolina State House and with a law firm. Today, Matthew is a sophomore at UT-Austin majoring in psychology. He maintained his desire to support young people in foster care—he wanted to make sure that they had all the same chances, support and opportunities as he did to pursue their dreams. That’s how he came up with the idea of founding a new, student-led organization called Foundation of the Fosters (FTF).
FTF looks to help youth who’ve experienced the foster care system get into and graduate from UT-Austin by pairing current UT students with youth who are interested in applying to the school. The current student acts as a mentor throughout the whole application process, guiding the potential students on letters of recommendation, scholarships, internships and more.
Matthew has been working on getting the organization off the ground and mentoring students for four semesters. It’s been a slow process, he said, because it’s crucial to take special care and vet anyone who might be working with minors in foster care. Matthew worked with UT officials to figure out what rules should be in place, both to protect UT students and the youth they’ll be working with. FTF has been getting mentorship from two other UT-Austin organizations that currently work with foster care-involved youth: the Spark Program and the Youth Protection Program (YPP). FTF is working with the Spark Program to develop a training course for all mentors to ensure they are prepared to interact in a safe and healthy manner. The Youth Protection Program will be overseeing interactions with foster care-involved youth as an unbiased presence to ensure safety.
FTF currently has 35+ total members, with a core group of students doing outreach and helping fundraise. Three FTF members were in the foster care system at some point in their lives. They joined the organization almost immediately after seeing people holding signs that said they wanted to help foster youth, Matthew said. They’ve been generous enough to contribute insights on the challenges they once faced, such as not knowing where to start with the college application process or not having the academic confidence to apply to college.
“One of the best things that our members who were in foster care did for me personally was let me know that I was on the right track in how to solve these issues,” Matthew said. “And give me the reassurance that the things that FTF is focusing on are the right things for us to be looking at.”
FTF plans to officially start mentoring foster students in 2022, or as soon as a potential mentee reaches out to the organization for assistance. All mentoring sessions will be conducted with either a supervisor from the organization that oversees or has guardianship of the youth, or a representative from the YPP. Meetings will be in-person if the foster student lives in the Austin area or through Zoom if they live far away or out of state.
One of Matthew’s hopes for the future with FTF is to help youth secure internships and to implement a tutoring program to instill academic confidence within candidates. His long-term goal is to expand to other University of Texas branches, such as UT-El Paso and UT-San Antonio, and other colleges such as Austin Community College and Texas A&M, to be able to provide the best fit for foster care-involved students’ individual learning experience and goals.
Help spread the word about this amazing new organization! If you know of or work with any youth who want to attend UT-Austin—or who are even considering it—or you’d like to receive more information about FTF, email firstname.lastname@example.org.