Placed into foster care at age 5 after both of his parents died, Demitrius De La Cruz moved through nine homes over the next three years until he was placed with a long-term family.

For years, he had stability and support, until he turned 18 his senior year of high school. In an all-too-common narrative, Demitrius’ adoptive parents relinquished responsibility for him, leaving him homeless—and hopeless—amid his dream of a college degree.

“It’s a sink-or-swim situation for foster kids—and it’s very hard to swim,” he said. “It’s easy to get sucked into the bad things that go on in life and feel hopeless.”

The National Foster Youth Institute reports more than 23,000 children across the United States age out of the foster system annually—often severing their support network and leaving them to fend for themselves while peers head to college. Less than 3 percent of those youth will earn a college degree in their lifetime.

Demitrius was determined, however, and he applied to and enrolled at Chico State. A few weeks into his freshman year, stressed and struggling without the material, emotional, and social resources of a family, he sat across from his academic advisor and shared that he had no one to turn to for guidance.

Minutes later, Demitrius found himself in the office of Marina Lomeli, program coordinator for Promoting Achievement Through Hope (PATH) Scholars. Designed to serve the specialized needs of students who identify as current and former foster youth or unaccompanied homeless as minors, the program was one of the first of its kind in the California State University and serves more than 60 students annually. It provides personalized financial aid support, counseling, advising, and tutoring, and connects students with resources on campus and in the community.

From that moment on, PATH Scholars cared for Demitrius (Hospitality Management, ’18) in a way he’d seldom experienced.

“I felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders,” he said, adding that the program’s personal touches created a familial connection and stability he longed for.

“She always looked out for my best interest, she truly wanted to help me and to see me succeed,” he said of Lomeli. “The deep connection I had with her changed my life.”

About nine in 10 students who participate in the PATH Scholars program earn their degree—a stunning 30 times greater than the national demographic. And though graduation is the ultimate goal, their experience in higher education becomes an on-ramp to a better life.

“I think true success is that they have learned to believe in themselves, learned self-advocacy, and have built a social network that includes healthy relationships,” Lomeli said.

Most PATH Scholars have experienced some form of trauma in their early years. Program advisor Dawn Carini said that transitions and the unknown—like beginning college, living on their own, navigating financial and housing arrangements—can be particularly difficult and triggering. One of the program’s recent initiatives is outreach to first-year and transfer students before they arrive at Chico State.

“This helps bridge the gap during that transition period, easing anxiety and worries, allowing them to connect early with resources so they feel supported in our program before they even get here,” she said.

Now working as a sales representative in healthcare services, Demitrius, who also identifies as Hispanic and African American, could not be more proud to be a first-generation college graduate.

“Sometimes I look back and I think, ‘How the hell did I do it?’” he said, reflecting on his intersecting identities. “All of the odds were against me—I could easily have failed.”

But he didn’t, thanks to the PATH Scholars program, he says. He’s one of many participants—each with their own journey and obstacles—who beat the odds every year. As the following four students attest, at Chico State, they are advancing their educational dreams, guided and supported by a program that truly feels like family.

The odds are stacked against them. Show PATH Scholars students you believe in their educational dreams and ensure they have the resources to achieve them by making a gift today.