Santa Barbara community members and UCSB students gathered on Friday evening for the fourth annual Guardian Scholars Holiday Celebration at the Montecito Country Club. The party, hosted by UCSB Regent Hadi Makarechian and his family, included opening remarks from Makarechian and UCSB Chancellor Henry Yang. The evening included appetizers and drinks in a pre-event soirée, a festive holiday dinner, and remarks from award-winning filmmaker and writer Antwone Fisher, who was in foster care.
The UCSB Guardian Scholars program supports around 120 students who have also been a part of the foster care system. The program is an academic and personal support system that provides various services to its students, such as financial aid advising, career guidance, and housing assistance. These services enable incoming students — many of whom navigate college in the absence of parents or guardians — to have some structured guidance. The program is also a network for students to meet other students with similar experiences to their own.
“I just really didn’t think that coming to college there would be other people I could connect with — with the experiences I’ve been through,” said Guardian Scholar Vanessa Gonzales. “It’s nice to know and to see those other people on campus. It’s like a little family here at UCSB.” The holiday party also unites community members and the Guardian Scholars. This connection serves as a networking opportunity for students and a way for Santa Barbara residents outside of the university to show these students their support.
Fourth-year UCSB Guardian Scholar, Andre Taylor, was the evening’s student speaker. Taylor, originally from Richmond, California, was placed in the foster care system when he was one year old. “I went through a lot of very malicious things growing up to where I could have turned out to be someone completely different, and I was going down that road for a bit, but it’s just about believing in yourself,” Taylor said. “The greatest shift for me was believing I could be whatever I wanted to be.”
Taylor has been very active in the Guardian Scholars program and told The Independent his experience in the program has been “perfect.” “They are doing an honorable thing, because they are showing that we have a support system, because as foster youth we grow up without a support system,” Taylor added of the program.
That support system came in handy for Guardian Scholar Sarah Cifranic who had nowhere to stay over Thanksgiving break, because the residence halls close for all holiday vacations. Cifranic told The Independent that Guardian Scholars Program Coordinator Antoinette “Tweet” Moreland-Carter helped her out. “I was able to call her on break, and they helped me get in my residence hall,” Cifranic said.
Cifranic had been in the foster care system since she was five years old. Of the other Guardian Scholars in the program, she said, “You’re with people who have something in common with you — you can talk to them about it. It’s not as awkward, or you don’t feel as weird as you would with someone else.” The evening ended with the distribution of holiday gift bags for students in the program.