By SHERIDAN CYR
Plainville resident and PHS Class of 2013 alumnus, Chris Marinelli, is determined to provide support to children and young adults in foster care, a population that he feels is all too often exposed to hardships – academically, emotionally and financially – when it comes to college education.
That’s why Marinelli has taken it upon himself to provide the much-needed support. He graduated from Central Connecticut State University in May, but didn’t stay away from the school long. In the fall 2017 semester, Marinelli was spearheading a new administrative program at CCSU, called “CCSU Academic Readiness and Engagement (CARE) Scholars.”
CARE Scholars is a support system for students entering college from a background of foster care and adoption. Through the Admissions Department at CCSU, the program offers one-on-one mentoring, monthly workshops, housing assistance on campus, and works closely with students who are in or grew up in foster care. They meet regularly with students, and even monitor their grades so they can key in on areas of struggle.
“This is a very specific population,” said Marinelli. “They grew up lacking the traditional family structure that most of their peers have.”
Marinelli did a capstone project focusing on foster care during his senior year at CCSU. He said about two-thirds of youth in Connecticut who are in foster care graduate from high school by the age of 21, and of those who pursue higher education, only about 7 percent graduate college.
“With this program, we just want to help them succeed in their education and get involved on campus,” said Marinelli. He has a special connection to the program, not only as the administrative assistant but as living proof that success is possible for youth who grow up in foster care. He used his own life story and experiences to build a program he only wished he had access to as a student.
The fall 2017 semester was the program’s first go, but C.A.R.E. has already touched almost 60 students. Marinelli hopes to continue to expand and improve the program, using feedback from students as well as quantitative information such as their grades. “We want to see what’s working for them and what’s not,” he said.
CARE Scholars collaborates and pools resources with CCSU and has partnerships with other nonprofit organizations. They also work with DCF. Through the Admissions Department at CCSU, CARE Scholars encourages students to take part in their services and also is an incentive for high school graduates to pursue an education at CCSU.
“Through my research for my capstone, I realized a lot of these inequalities, and it’s an aspect of society that isn’t discussed enough,” Marinelli said. “This is a huge achievement gap and it’s enduring.”
Marinelli accredits his motivation and determination to Teach for America, a nonprofit organization that seeks to prepare future leaders to strengthen the movement for educational equity and excellence.
“My time with Teach for America was essential to me starting this. They build your character quickly and learn to be a leader while developing strong professional skills,” said Marinelli. Through TFA, Marinelli spent time teaching in numerous classrooms and saw first-hand many flaws and inequalities in the educational system. He became motivated to take charge and try to address some of those flaws.
“I feel very fortunate that I’ve been able to quantify my own experiences into this program,” he said. “This whole thing is really eye-opening and I can’t wait to see it continue to grow.”