When I was researching Biddleville neighborhood for a story a few months ago, I wandered into the George E. Davis House across the street from the Johnson C. Smith University campus. That impromptu visit led me to Pat Newell, the passionate and empathetic leader of Phasing Up, a special program for college students who were brought up through the foster care system.

Photo 2 Credit JCSU

Phasing Up began in 2008 at the JCSU campus, but is part of a national program called the Guardian Scholars Program. Newell became the program’s first director in 2011. With full support from JCSU President Ronald L. Carter, Newell has been able to design a program that provides support for students who may not have had the same opportunities afforded to others who grew up in a traditional family home.

“We give them an extra layer of support,” Newell said.

Photo 3 Credit JCSU

From setting up a residence hall room and meal plan to navigating financial aid, students who grew up in foster homes do not have parental guidance or support.

Newell recruits students from all over the country, but some make it to JCSU on their own. Steven Reneau, Jr., 24, is a senior social work major from Rialto, California.

“I spent my last pay check to purchase a plane ticket,” Reneau said. “When I arrived to JCSU I did not know anything about the procedures to getting enrolled.”

Photo 4 Credit JCSU

Phasing Up students are given a lot of support. From the beginning, they receive a student mentor with a similar background. They sign commitment forms about what is expected of them in terms of academics, tutoring and required meetings. Each student is assigned a graduate student in the masters of social work program. The social work interns follow an adult transition curriculum, meeting weekly with the students to discuss topics such as financial literacy, career coaching and professional development.

When Reneau arrived on campus, he had nothing.

“Ever since I have been a part of the program I have been helped in every way possible from housing, groceries, books and paid internships,” he said.

Katherine Bartholomew is a 20-year-old rising junior at JCSU. After she aged out of the Mecklenburg County Department of Social Services foster program, her social worker, a graduate of JCSU, introduced her to Newell.

“I did not have the confidence to go to college,” said Bartholomew.

Photo 5 Credit JCSU

Bartholomew was part of a delegation this past February to travel to Seattle to meet Bill Gates. She shared her experiences growing up in the foster system and what Phasing Up has done for her.

“We told him about the real pressure of bills. It is not as simple when you don’t have parents. He learned a lot from us,” said Bartholomew.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation granted more than $1 million for innovative programs at JCSU for students like Bartholomew and Reneau.

The delegation also left Gates with the dab.

Photo 6 Credit JCSU

Phasing Up’s partnership with social service agencies, non-profit organizations, companies and individuals is vital to its success. Newell is always looking for new ways for the community to get involved.  One way to do that is through internships; Phasing Up needs additional year-round and summer internships at local businesses and corporations. Individuals can also provide expertise in a particular area or teach a series on a specific topic.

Reneau graduates next May.

“This program is one of the most unique organizations that I’ve ever been a part of,” he said.

For more information on volunteering or setting up internships, email pnewell@jcsu.edu.

 Photos: Johnson C. Smith University 

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