UC Santa Barbara’s Guardian Scholars Program received generous gifts this holiday season. The program, which assists former foster youth and current Gauchos, recently accepted more than $1 million in grants from two donors. Guardian Scholars provides countless resources, career guidance, and academic support for the 150 UCSB students who may not have parents or guardians. Dressed in classy attire, these students enjoyed a swanky evening at Montecito Country Club on Friday night.
UC Regent Hadi Makarechian and his wife, Barbara, donated $500,000 to the program. The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation – founded by the hotel king (and UCSB alum) to fund nonprofits serving underprivileged people worldwide – matched the amount and contributed $530,000. Guardian Scholars offers a variety of resources – study sessions, care packages, pizza nights, support groups, and academic guidance – but with the recent boost will be able to transform from an all-volunteer program to a staffed operation and more actively assist students before they experience possible crises.
“This dinner is really to give them a sense that they’re not alone,” Hadi Makarechian said, explaining he became involved in Guardian Scholars after realizing some students without parents or family members became homeless when the dorms close during breaks. The Makarechians have donated in recent years, and they plan to continue to focus on Guardian Scholars in years to come.
One of the cofounders, Alana Osaki, is a senior close to receiving her Bachelor of Science degree in aquatic biology and a minor in geography. “Guardian Scholars are unlike any individuals I’ve ever met,” she said, adding that the close-knit group “reminds everyone how far they’ve come.” Part of the program, Osaki explained, reaches out to high school foster youth to help them realize college is an option. Roughly 50 percent of foster youth drop out of high school, and only 6 percent of those who do graduate ultimately receive a bachelor’s degree.
Adeola Adeife, another Guardian Scholar and peer advisor, hails from Georgia but has found a family in the program. She referred to UCSB Director of Admissions Lisa Przekop, who plays a key role in the program, as her “mentor,” “advisor,” and “mama.”
“These are some of the smartest kids on earth,” Makarechian added. “To be able to overcome that much adversary … in my eyes, they’re heroes.”