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Rotary Grant Helps SMC Foster Youth Students Make Ends Meet


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By Lookout Staff

March 28, 2024 -- Current and former foster youth enrolled at Santa Monica College (SMC) will get help paying for textbooks, food and transportation thanks to a $21,750 grant from the local Rotary Club.

The funds -- earmarked for the college's Guardian Scholars Program -- were raised by Rotary Club at the 16th Annual Santa Monica Rotary Wine Festival March 9 at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles.

Nearly 1,000 former or current foster youth have received targeted counseling, meal and transportation services and help with housing and medical services.

Many Guardian Scholars have graduated and transferred to four-year schools including UC Berkeley, UCLA, USC, and Cal State Northridge, said Debra Locke, SMC’s Interim Dean of Special Programs.

“I cannot overstate the impact of this generous assistance provided by Rotary Club Santa Monica -- thanks to them, more Guardian Scholars will receive much-needed help as they navigate college and follow in the footsteps of those who have transferred or started a career of their choice.”

The money raised for the Guardian Program is the most raised for a featured charity by the Rotary Club, which last year awarded a $10,000 grant to support SMC’s basic needs programs.

The Guardian program's "dedication to giving former and current foster students the help they need to succeed is a gift to all of us as it makes the world a better place,” said Andrea Gressinger, chair of club's Wine Festival event.

The program was established in 2013 with a three-year grant from the Angell Foundation and supporting grants from several trusts and foundations, as well as state funding.

“The support Guardian Scholars provided meant a lot through good times and hard times,” said student Zion Cail. “As long as I have been in the program I (have gotten) the same love, appreciation, respect and support.”

Janee Keaton, a Guardian Scholar and Liberal Arts major said the program’s support “meant the world and allowed me to feel a stronger sense of self-worth while helping me advocate for myself.”

“As someone who’s been in foster care," said biological anthropology major Zain Zain, "the counselors and people in (Guardian Scholars) are always there to help, if you need help with anything.”

The Guardian Scholars Program offers students intensive academic and career counseling, priority enrollment, tutoring, meal assistance, student success workshops, mental health therapy and more.

Alongside Guardian Scholars, SMC also has a state-funded NextUp program for foster youth.

For more information about Guardian Scholars (and NextUp) visit Information about the Rotary Club of Santa Monica is available on the club’s webpage at

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