Staying Connected with First Star
With schools closed and students working from home, the way kids are learning, living, and coping has drastically changed. To adjust to this “new normal,” First Star has created a weekly virtual support group space for the kids in the program to connect, share, and learn during this confusing time.
First Star is a nonprofit organization operating out of Hopeloft that connects foster youth to a college exposure program and provides them and their families with resources, education, and life coaching, ultimately promoting academic success and self-sufficiency. Typically, First Star’s central programming includes monthly Saturday sessions, which are a balance of educational and emotional support, and a Summer Academy once a year on a college campus that teaches SAT prep and essential courses, health and wellness, life skills, and includes fun and educational weekend trips.
With the new COVID-19 guidelines, First Star is unable to host both their Saturday sessions and Summer Academy—but they are not letting these restrictions stop them from upholding their mission to improve the lives of youth in the foster care system. Even though things have changed, First Star maintains a strong relationship with the kids in the program and continues to search for ways to keep them engaged, motivated, and supported.
“I think staying connected is important, especially for the students. This is a traumatic experience in student life—we are all having our schedules shifted,” says Julio Nieves, Director of the South Jersey First Star Collaborative. “The way we connect with people and relate to one another is changed now.”
In place of the monthly Saturday sessions, First Star has switched to weekly check-ins via Zoom every Tuesday. These relaxed video calls are hosted to offer support for the kids, and are split up between whole-group time led by Julio and small-group time led by mentors. The virtual meetings also provide them with an educational experience each week as guest speakers are invited to talk to the kids about a range of subjects, including how they have coped with the pandemic in both their personal and professional lives. The team at First Star has also connected students who are adjusting to home schooling with tutoring mentors to ease this transition.
“Everybody’s dealing with these things in different ways. Having a space for them to meet virtually has been a great help,” says Julio.
These virtual check-ins are just the start for First Star. They are dedicated to supporting the children in the program, and they have been brainstorming ideas for an online summer academy and other fun activities and virtual appreciation events, like social media spotlights for graduating seniors.
First Star’s commitment to local youth is unconditional, and we are lucky to have them as part of our Hopeloft team as we all work together to create better futures for the people in our community. If you are interested in getting involved or learning more about First Star, check out their website or contact Julio Nieves at Julio@FirstStarAcademy.org.