United Way Launches Guaranteed Income for Former Foster Youth at Sacramento State

Two former foster youth wearing evening gowns are surprised to learn they will receive $500 a month for a year

Ten students from the greater Sacramento region who are participating in Sacramento State’s Guardian Scholars Program for former foster youth will receive $500 a month of guaranteed income for 12 months beginning in May through United Way California Capital Region’s new Collegiate Guaranteed Income Program. The new program was announced at United Way’s United in Purpose Gala fundraiser on Saturday night to the surprise of the 10 students who were all in attendance. 

“I was once a foster youth myself, so I understand firsthand the immense challenges this population faces in pursuing higher education,” said Sacramento State President Luke Wood. “Too often, students who were in the foster care system lack the financial and emotional support structures that many of their peers take for granted. This groundbreaking partnership with United Way reflects our community’s deep commitment to empowering these resilient scholars and ensuring they have the resources to not just survive but thrive on their academic journeys. This program will alleviate some of the financial burden, allowing our students to focus wholeheartedly on their studies and personal growth.”

According to a CalYOUTH study from 2020, one quarter of former California foster youth surveyed experienced being unhoused between the ages of 21 and 23, with an additional 28% saying they couch surfed. That same study also found that 28.2% of former foster youth attending college would be qualified as being food insecure according to the USDA measures.

“Selecting Sacramento State as the pilot for this program was a natural choice, given the inspiring journey of Dr. Luke Wood, from dealing with extreme life pressures as a foster youth to his recent appointment as the university’s ninth president. His story resonates deeply with the work United Way has been doing for decades,” said Dr. Dawnté Early, president and CEO, United Way California Capital Region. “Earlier this year, Dr. Wood said his goal is for Sacramento State to have the largest enrollment of former foster youth in the country and be known for serving them. That commitment aligns with our longtime pledge to support foster youth in and out of the classroom. Together with Dr. Wood, United Way’s aim is to create an environment where these students can focus more on their studies and less on basic needs like housing, food and transportation.”

Funding for the Collegiate Guaranteed Income Program will come from United Way’s action group, Women United. This philanthropic network of women has been leveraging their passions, ideas, expertise and resources for more than 20 years to focus on their signature issue – ensuring foster youth are prepared for a successful transition to independence and adulthood. Since its founding more than two decades ago, Women United has raised more than $2 million for foster youth programming.

“As a member of Women United and a former foster youth myself, I know this new Collegiate Guaranteed Income Program will be a huge benefit to these students who have faced adversity throughout their lives,” said September Hargrove, United Way California Capital Region board liason for Women United, and JPMorgan Chase executive director of community banking for Northern California. “Obtaining your degree isn’t easy, however doing so while under extreme life pressures, whether it be food, housing, transportation or family issues, makes that such a challenge. For every former foster youth like Dr. Wood and myself who obtained their degrees, there are many more who drop out due to those life pressures causing economic insecurities. The hope is that this program will give these students a helping hand in dealing with those pressures.”  

The Collegiate Guaranteed Income Program brings together United Way’s experience working with foster youth with its expertise in guaranteed income. United Way launched the first Guaranteed Income Program of its kind in the California Capital Region in July 2021, following that up with a second round of funding for additional recipients in March 2023 with the City of Sacramento, and again in November 2023 with County of Sacramento Supervisors Phil Serna (District 1) and Patrick Kennedy (District 2) and Sierra Health Foundation. 

“I feel blessed, thankful and cherished, and a lot of foster youth don’t get to feel that way from many people, so to feel that from strangers is an amazing and surreal feeling,” said Jaliyah, one of the former foster youth who will benefit from United Way’s Collegiate Guaranteed Income Program. “I’m going to use these funds to pay for groceries because they’re expensive, and to fix my car because I need it to get to school. It will also help me pay for classes for next semester, so I’m ecstatic.”

California State University, Sacramento (Sacramento State), is a four-year, regional comprehensive university located in the capital of the state with the fifth-largest economy in the world. As part of the California State University system, which is the largest public university in the world, Sacramento State is the sixth-largest campus with over 31,000 students, 91% of whom are undergraduates. Sacramento State’s mission is to “transform lives by preparing students for leadership, service, and success.” Sacramento State is a proud Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI) and an Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institution (AANAPISI).

Founded in 1923, United Way California Capital Region has been a transformative force in the Sacramento community for more than a century, serving Amador, El Dorado, Placer, Sacramento and Yolo counties. The local United Way’s Square One approach to ending poverty is grounded in a public health model and uses a threefold strategy to address community needs from birth and beyond: helping kids excel in school, investing in families and strengthening schools. At United Way’s core is the philosophy that families possess the blueprint for their success. United Way supplies books to young children, provides literacy tutoring, addresses housing and food security, leads the region’s largest tax preparation initiative and launched Sacramento’s first guaranteed income program. United Way works across diverse school districts, providing case management for foster youth and leading the Community Schools initiative in West Sacramento. For more information or to make a donation, visit www.YourLocalUnitedWay.org