First Star supports youth living in foster care with HopSkipDrive

HopSkipDrive CareDriver with studentFirst Star is a national nonprofit dedicated to helping youth in foster care access quality education, support, and the resources needed for a successful transition to adulthood. Their Academies offer a long-term college-prep program with immersive residential summers on university campuses and monthly sessions during the school year. These academies focus on education, life skills, and caregiver engagement to keep scholars on track for graduation and higher education.

HopSkipDrive partners with First Star to arrange safe, reliable transportation, allowing these students to attend all program activities. This partnership began in 2019, with HopSkipDrive arranging transportation for students enrolled in the First Star UCLA Bruin Guardian Scholars Academy in Los Angeles. In 2023, this partnership expanded to include the First Star Arizona State University Academy in Phoenix, where First Star and HopSkipDrive have worked together to enable transportation for more than 62 students to date, including more than 40 youth living in foster care.

We spoke with Brian Ritchey, Senior Director of Academy Partnerships at First Star, to learn more about how First Star programs support youth in foster care — and the impact of First Star’s partnership with HopSkipDrive.

The critical need for reliable foster care transportation

Our current educational system often fails to address the unique challenges that youth in foster care face. According to First Star, only about half of students living in foster care graduate high school, and only 10% ever begin college. Research shows that youth with foster care experience are more likely to become incarcerated, homeless, or reliant on public assistance as young adults. After aging out of the foster care system, 20% of youth who formerly lived in foster care will become instantly homeless, and only one out of every two will have some form of gainful employment by the age of 24. 

First Star aims to bridge these gaps by providing youth in foster care with the tools and opportunities they need to succeed. But ensuring consistent attendance at First Star's programs can be a logistical challenge. Many youth in foster care don’t have access to dependable transportation, and unpredictable living situations can also make regular program participation difficult. First Star is dedicated to finding new ways to help youth in foster care overcome these hurdles so these scholars are able to attend, and benefit from, their programs. 

“Foster youth face so many barriers to accessing academic enrichment programs that non-foster youth don’t, including limited family support and a lack of available resources. One of the hardest things is getting the scholars in the door.” 

—Brian Ritchey, Senior Director of Academy Partnerships at First Star

This is where HopSkipDrive comes in. By partnering with First Star, HopSkipDrive helps students get to and from campus, enabling them to fully participate in First Star’s college-prep programming.

Removing transportation barriers

First Star’s partnership with HopSkipDrive has been instrumental in addressing barriers to transportation that can stand in the way of student participation. HopSkipDrive’s safe, flexible model gives these students a transportation option they can rely on so they can attend the summer residential programs and regular Saturday Academies without worrying about how to get there. 

This collaboration is especially vital as it removes a significant obstacle for caregivers and guarantees that students can consistently engage in the program if a lack of transportation prevents them from attending.

“Once we get them there, we have programming, dedicated staff, and everything else needed to support them. . . Being able to provide transportation and take that hurdle out of the equation really makes a huge difference for us.”

—Brian Ritchey, Senior Director of Academy Partnerships at First Star 

With reliable transportation in place, youth in foster care can fully benefit from the educational and support services that First Star provides, setting them on a path to success. “We’re really thankful for the partnership we have with HopSkipDrive,” says Ritchey.

Transportation: part of a broader support network for youth in foster care

Reliable transportation is more than just a logistical solution; it has profound implications for the overall success of First Star’s efforts. Removing transportation barriers supports First Star’s mission to provide students with uninterrupted access to the education and resources they need. 

First Star’s ability to help students build life and psycho-social skills, foster healthy relationships with adult caregivers and mentors, and provide educational advocacy directly contributes to the program’s high graduation rates and the significant number of scholars advancing to higher education. As Ritchey shared, “We have, on average over the last five years now, seen over 98% of our scholars graduate high school and over 60% go on to higher education.”

This successful partnership demonstrates the importance of addressing transportation challenges in educational programs, especially for vulnerable populations like youth living in foster care. By providing comprehensive transportation solutions, First Star and HopSkipDrive are making a tangible difference in the lives of these students, helping them to achieve their academic and personal goals.

2020-FS-Students-first-Transparent-1First Star is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of foster youth through innovative education programs and advocacy efforts. Their mission is to ensure that foster youth have the support, resources, and opportunities they need to thrive academically and personally. They operate a network of Academies across the country, providing college-prep programs, life skills training, and mentorship to empower foster youth on their journey to success. Through strategic partnerships and community engagement, First Star is committed to breaking down barriers and creating brighter futures for foster youth nationwide.


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