What’s New with Spark? 2018 Spark UT Teen Camp & Back to School

Spark 2018 Update blogIt was a busy June with Spark!  In addition to attending the Education Reach for Texans Conference early in the month, we hosted the 3rd annual overnight Spark UT Teen Camp in partnership with DFPS PAL Services and Foster Angels of Central Texas for a group of 30 teenagers currently in foster care. Our guests got a glimpse of campus life staying in the Jester dorms, eating at the campus cafes, and even attending a private swim party at Gregory Gym! This year also brought some special additions to our programming including sessions from Teens with Character and a vision board workshop hosted by Jan Mann, LPC from the Center for Transitional Living.

The students enjoyed the activities but were most excited to familiarize themselves with the UT Campus through campus tours and visits with professionals on campus. The group got to talk with students attending UT that are participating in Spark and Horns Helping Horns, and really were able to see themselves getting to college. “Two attendees said that they changed their mind and liked UT and wanted to go there as their first choice,” said Shannon Mann-Butler, TXICFW Senior Operations & Development Coordinator.

As always a highlight of the event for all of our attendees was touring the football stadium. The students really enjoyed being able to walk out onto the field at Darrel k Royal Stadium.  Getting such a warm welcome from everyone on campus made UT an inviting and welcoming community.  “The idea behind this event is to encourage youth to start thinking about their future, and give them a unique opportunity to experience life as a UT student.” As the Spark Program Coordinator, Shannon facilitated and planned the conferences to bring youth to campus for a fun and educational event. “Spark is all about empowering former foster youth to attend college – any college – and providing resources and support they need to succeed while they are in school at UT.”

Shannon Mann-Butler and Dr. Monica Faulkner, TXICFW Director, serve as UT’s Foster Care Liaisons, a position added to the Texas Education Code in 2015, requiring all Texas public institutions of higher education to appoint liaisons who will be available to offer support and guidance to former foster youth currently enrolled. In addition to the Spark UT Teen Conference and coordinating the Spark program TXICFW committed to foster youth in other ways. TXICFW is currently deeply involved in other community efforts to assist foster youth as they leave the system.

On average, children in foster care change high schools over 5 times.  Getting into the top percent of their class with the challenge of starting over all the time is nothing less than amazing! It takes a lot to get to UT, and we want to make sure that our students are well cared for and not worried about feeling out of place.  Spark is gearing up for the 2018-19 school year and is currently partnered with local business leaders to provide college essentials to former foster youth currently enrolled at UT.

“Moving away for college comes with excitement and some nervousness, but I always knew that my mom and grandmother were a phone call away if I needed something. So many young people don’t have anyone to help them get ready for school or give them financial and motivational support while they are there,” explains Shannon. A dorm room isn’t like the room the student had at in their last placement. Imagine this – for some it will be the first time having real freedom in their own living space – to decorate and make it their own. In addition to basic school supply needs their home on campus will also require tools for daily living. They need for towels, bedding, household items, toiletries, and laundry supplies and more – which as you can imagine represents a significant additional expense for youth that don’t have money to spare.

The gifts from Spark donors allow our students to kick off their year meeting new people, digging into study sessions and navigating campus without worrying about having their essentials in hand. It’s natural that a lot of students will be worried about how to get everything they need to bring the first day – from schools supplies to setting up their dorm room there is a lot to consider. You can learn more about this year’s sponsorship opportunities by contacting Shannon Mann-Butler: Shannon.Mann@austin.utexas.edu.