Greenwood teen gets college jump start with Foster Success program

When he entered foster care, he was uncertain of his future.

Now, a program linking young people in foster care to early college opportunities at IUPUI has given Greenwood resident Lewis Le a firmer grasp on his path.

The program is run through Foster Success, a non-profit organization based in Indianapolis that connects young adults under 26 transitioning out of Indiana’s foster care system with resources as they enter college and the workforce. Le spent the summer learning about personal finance, resume and career-preparedness, and taking college classes through three Foster Success programs. His future wasn’t always as clear.

Le, now 18 years old, spent his early childhood in Vietnam, but moved to Greenwood in 2015. His lack of fluency in the English language made it difficult to have a social life and understand what was going on in school, Le said.

“In my first three years in the U.S., I didn’t really speak this language,” Le said. “It was really difficult for me because everyone here was speaking English and my first language was Vietnamese. It (affects) everything, making friends, studying in school, staying focused in school. I barely understood what people were saying. Even going into restaurants and ordering food, I needed somebody with me.”

Le started to learn English thanks to a family member and the English Language Learner program at Greenwood schools, but his challenges didn’t end there. When Le had to go into foster care last year, his life was upended again.

“When I got out of that house, I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what to do to make my dream come true. I was lucky enough to get into a foster home with educated people, where they knew my plan. They knew what I have been through and they knew what I wanted to do in the future,” Le said. “They guided me step-by-step, ‘this is how you apply to college and scholarships.’”

Le developed an interest in computer science, and was accepted to IUPUI during the 2022-23 school year for enrollment this fall. Through foster care, Le was connected with an Older Youth Services caseworker, who helped him join the Foster Success network.

Through Foster Success, Le applied for the Catalyst Summer Bridge program, said James Vaughn, a spokesperson for the organization.

Le was one of 10 students in the six-week Catalyst program that includes free housing at IUPUI and college credits through summer courses. The program began on June 26 and wrapped up Friday, Vaughn said.

With Catalyst Summer Bridge, Le is taking three IUPUI classes for college credit: “Fundamentals of public speaking,” “Critical inquiry” and a first-year seminar.

“At first I wanted to get (college) credit and I didn’t expect something more,” Le said. “I learned to set up a schedule and prepare for things ahead of time. I learned to stay focused in class, to do homework beforehand. I learned how to contribute to class and I also learned how college class is going to work and I made connections with professors.”

Catalyst Summer Bridge is one of three programs Le took part in, along with Opportunity Passport and Works Wonders. Through Opportunity Passport, Le learned how to manage his finances and plan a budget. Foster Success will also match the savings of a young adult transitioning out of foster care up to $3,500, an offer that’s valid until they turn 26, Vaughn said.

Le said he plans to invest in a car once he’s able to save enough and get the match from Foster Success.

“When I have a car, it’s going to be easier for me to have more opportunities. I figured out I wanted to do internships, and in order to have more opportunities and to do internships you need a car to expand the area you can go to,” Le said.

Through Works Wonders, another program Le is involved in this summer, he’s learning how to set his best foot forward when it comes time to apply for internships, and later, jobs, Vaughn said.

“It prepares young people to write resumes, helps them learn to write cover letters, network, interview, it all falls under workforce readiness,” Vaughn said.

While the program has helped Le prepare for college and adult life as he enters IUPUI as a freshman this fall, his time taking classes with other young adults with foster care experience has provided him a chance to bond with people who have something in common with him, Le said.

“I think it’s really great,” Le said. “You get to know people who have been through the same stuff as you. We’ve all been through that kind of situation. We’ve all been there and we understand each other better.”