Island Harbor Gives Students a Home for the Holidays

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – While many college students look forward to going home for the holidays, some do not have that luxury. This is why it’s vitally important for Island Harbor, a Supervised Independent Living (SIL) program at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi for former foster care students, to make the Island campus feel like home for its participants. Island Harbor students are able to stay in their student housing complexes over the winter break, celebrate with a special holiday party, and spend time with community mentors – some of whom have invited the students to their home for the holiday.

“We’re proud to have a pioneer program such as Island Harbor,” said Loren Watts, professional assistant professor and foster care liaison at A&M-Corpus Christi. “This program will positively affect these students lives, help break the cycle of dysfunction and abuse, and impact the community for years to come.”

While foster care students in Texas are already eligible for tuition and fee waivers at public universities, Island Harbor, which was created in partnership with the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, provides waivers for on-campus housing and a meal plan as well as other support services. Currently, four Islander students are benefiting from the program, including Desirae Perales, a first-year student from San Antonio. 

“The semester was a bit challenging at first, but this program has made me more aware of the resources I have at the University,” said Perales, an 18-year-old who obtained an associate degree while in high school and is now working toward a bachelor’s degree.

On top of academic and financial support, Island Harbor also provides emotional support and reassurance.

“It’s important to encourage students, especially when they are struggling, so they know they have someone to walk alongside them,” said Watts.

These efforts do not go unnoticed and are truly appreciated by Island Harbor students.

“I was terrified when I aged out of the foster care system in May of this year,” said Perales, who was placed in foster care by her mother when she was 9 years old. “I came to school thinking that I had no one by my side, that I wasn’t going be able to make it, and that the world was against me. But then I met people who are there for me, like Loren, who will talk with me about personal and academic issues, give me advice, and really help me – it made life a little easier.” 

Texas A&M-Corpus Christi has also teamed up with other nonprofits, like the Foster Angels of South Texas and local churches, to help meet unexpected needs that will inevitably arise. This is especially important since studies show 80 percent of children in foster care say they want to go to college, but only 2 to 3 percent attain a bachelor’s degree. 

“The ultimate goal of Island Harbor is for our students to graduate with a four-year degree, while also setting them up to have successful, joyful lives after graduation,” shared Watts. “Helping them process their past and grow through the adversity of life is part of how we envision meeting that goal.”