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Brighter Futures for Foster Youth

For many students, Thanksgiving break and other holidays are a time to head home, catch up with parents, load up on some homemade meals and relax on the couch. For Colorado Mesa University Alumnus Kim Raff, home looked a bit different.

Raff’s story is similar to many youth who have spent time in the foster care system. She bounced between six middle schools and spent the majority of her childhood in just about as many states. Her life was plagued with unfamiliarity. She would move from one random home to the next until she landed back with her parents. The never-ending cycle of changing homes was a part of life for Raff, as was homelessness.

“We would live in our car,” remembers Raff. “At one point, we lived in a tent in the Unaweep Canyon. But the drinking and drugs got so bad again that I went to live with cousins in Seattle.”

It was June 4, 1995, when Raff graduated from high school. She remembers that date because at just 17 years old, she had aged out of foster care, and was left with nowhere to go.

“I was in survival mode most of my life. My mom taught me everything not to do, so I did the opposite,” said Raff, who worked three jobs to support herself, until one a day the owners of the Dairy Queen she worked at asked her about college. 

“I was so busy just trying to survive, that school wasn’t an option. Thankfully, Tony and Marie helped me apply, walked me through all the steps.”

It took Raff 12 years to graduate, but eventually she earned her bachelors in psychology with an emphasis in counseling.

“I look back and I don’t know where I would be if I had not gone to school, if I had not had the opportunity. CMU gave me a sense of purpose,” said Raff.

Fast forward a few years, and Raff has created the nonprofit Foster Alumni Mentors, which works to build a support system for alumni of foster care and a sense of community.

This fall, Raff, with the support of John and Angela Hildebrand and countless donors, funded a fully endowed scholarship ($25,000) — the Foster Alumni Mentors - Sylvia Aynn Richards Memorial Scholarship, which is the first CMU endowment for foster youth.

“This endowment came to life in just eight months. It truly is amazing to see our community come together for foster care youth,” said Raff.

In addition to the Foster Alumni Mentors - Sylvia Aynn Richards Memorial Scholarship, the State of Colorado has delegated a pot of money for Colorado students who grew up in the foster care system. The Foster Youth Financial Assistance Program is for students who were placed in foster care at any time on or after their 13th birthday. 

As CMU and the state continue to find new ways to support foster youth, it's people like Raff who have the courage to tell their stories that make all the difference. 


Written by Kelsey Coleman