Island Harbor Program Welcomes Future Islanders to Campus

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – “Growing up in foster care, sometimes there is not a lot a food to eat, so the fact that the new program provides free food is a blessing,” said Hector Isaac Villarreal, an 18-year-old who has been in and out of the Texas foster care system for years.

Villarreal, along with two dozen other youth and young adults, were invited to Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi on July 17 for a special information session and campus tour tailored for those who are in foster care or have recently aged out of foster care. During the tour, the group learned more about Island Harbor, an innovative and unique program offering eligible foster care students a tuition and fee waiver, plus an additional waiver for campus housing and meal plans. Island Harbor was created in response to a joint initiative between the Texas A&M University System and the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS).

“When I got here today, they said, ‘we care about you.’ That’s something good to hear, especially if you’ve been thrown away a lot of times,” said Villarreal.

Dr. Rachel Kirk is the lead facilitator of Island Harbor.

“Children in foster care have been shown repeatedly throughout their lives that they don’t matter,” said Kirk. “They are bounced around from place to place and decisions are made about their lives without their input. Island Harbor will provide these students with a holistic experience, including a variety of support services, so they can achieve their education goals.” 

Villareal’s current educational aspirations are to earn an associate degree at a local trade school, then potentially transfer to Island University.

“I think Island Harbor is an amazing program,” said Villarreal. “It’s going to get kids from foster care away from being hurt to becoming something in life.”

Nicole Bueno-Villa, who was also on the tour, will be attending A&M-Corpus Christi in the fall.

“The tour was great! Seeing the different buildings and the college students, and the things you can experience, I can barely wait. I want to start already!” exclaimed Bueno-Villa, who jumped with excitement when talking about campus.

The tour included lessons on campus history, traditions and pit stops at iconic campus hangouts like the University Center, Hector P. Garcia Plaza, the Mary and Jeff Bell Library, and a stroll through “cat alley.” Bueno-Villa will be the first in her family to attend a university and she plans to study forensics and psychology.

“The support system on this campus is amazing, from the counseling center to the tutoring center, so I know I will be able to succeed here,” said Bueno-Villa. “Island Harbor will give me the opportunity to focus on my goals and not worry about where I’m going to sleep, what I’m going to eat, and how I’m going to pay for books.”

Statistics show 80 percent of children in foster care say they want to go to college, but only two to three percent obtain a bachelor’s degree.

“This tour was an awesome experience for these kids because they can see, ‘hey, this is a place for me, this is a place I can call home,’” said Christy Haigood, a Preparation for Adult Living (PAL) specialist for DFPS who attended the campus tour and works directly with foster care youth.

There are currently four students taking advantage of the Island Harbor program this fall and Kirk has high hopes for those number to grow.