At a luncheon to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of Stanislaus State’s Promise Scholars program, which aims to help former foster youth create a better future for themselves through post-secondary education, Promise Scholar alumni Jordan Elzie told audience members that he never thought he would go to college.
“I guess my turning point was when I got involved in gangs in high school,” said Elzie. “I used to sell drugs, sell firearms — I used to do it all. I’ve been in cars where people have shot at people. I’ve seen my best friends get shot right in front of me at parties. I’ve been stabbed in the back — not stabbed in the back by a friend lying about you — I’ve physically had a six inch blade in my back.”
With an upbringing that “could be a movie,” Elzie’s life began in Pittsburg with a drug dealer as a mom and a dad as a corrupt police sergeant, who was sentenced to 12 years in 1995 for his role in the kidnapping and murder of a Safeway assistant manager seven years prior.
Elzie ended up in the foster care system when he was four years old and for years he bounced from city to city, state to state as he endlessly searched for a stable environment to call home.
“I’ve lived in some of the most terrible homes where they just thought I was some socially challenged youth and they would just try to medicate the hell out of me because I was so hyperactive,” said Elzie. “I was an only child who used to sleep in cars and be homeless for half of his life. I never had a friend, so the fact that I lived in a house with siblings and wanted to socialize is understandable.”
Since 2006, Promise Scholars has been helping ensure the bright futures of college-bound students like Elzie who have been emancipated from the State of California’s foster care system. The program does everything in its power to help foster youth graduate from college, including providing scholarship assistance and psychological counseling.
“One of the things I want students to do is find your own path, I’m there to guide them, but I don’t tell them what to do,” said Promise Scholars program coordinator Wanda Bonnell. “I will encourage them if they come to me with something they feel that is in their hearts and that they are passionate about doing.”
Through the Promise Scholars program at Stanislaus State, Elzie and other students just like him received special academic advising, instruction and support for developing life skills — including assistance securing safe and affordable housing, learning how to manage money and finding jobs that don’t interfere with their academic goals. Thanks to the support he received from the program, Elzie was the president of his fraternity, captain of the track team, involved in Associated Students Inc. and able to graduate with a bachelor of arts in psychology.
Elzie was one Promise Scholar who was honored during Thursday’s luncheon, which brought together students, donors and the greater community to celebrate the program’s 10-year anniversary. Since its inception, the program has helped 25 students like Elzie graduate college.
“I am honored and proud to support the powerful mission of the Promise Scholars program,” said Stanislaus State President Ellen Junn. “We believe education creates choices and opportunities for former foster youth. The program strives to provide access to the promise of a better future through higher education. Only 10 percent of former foster youth go on to attend college and an even smaller percentage complete their college degree. Promise Scholars at Stanislaus State is a program that is helping to change that statistic.”
Along with Elzie, the luncheon honored Promise Scholars alumni such as Terrance Ellis, who graduated with a bachelor of arts in graphic design, as well as current Promise Scholar students. Elzie is now working at the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s office and he hopes to attend law school.
“It’s been an honor for me to be able to work with you guys,” Bonnell told Promise Scholars Thursday. “Each one of you has gone on to do more than I could’ve ever imagined and I’m very proud of all of you.”
A number of community donors were also honored during Thursday’s luncheon, including Wells Fargo, Save Mart, Gallo Winery, Blue Diamond, AT&T, Sierra Dental Services, Dan and Denise Costa, Donna Pierce, Eileen Hamilton, Deborah Maclaren and Jeremiah Williams.