50 students in Guardian Scholars program honored
By Kristina Houck
Having missed more than a year of elementary school between foster homes, Jennica Rebelez struggled academically as a child. With the help of Promises2Kids’ Guardian Scholars program, the 25-year-old is now pursuing her doctorate degree at UC Santa Barbara and training to be a school psychologist.
Promises2Kids’ Guardian Scholars program encourages former foster youth like Rebelez to pursue higher education. The program provides participating students with academic scholarships, financial aid workshops, and college planning and mentoring support.
“They’ve really been with me and seen me through my hardest times of undergrad, as well as my master’s and doctorate programs,” said Rebelez, who was placed into foster care with her younger siblings after years of severe neglect. “They’ve been a constant support.”
Promises2Kids celebrated the program’s 50 students, including nine recent graduates, during the Guardian Scholars Awards Reception on Tuesday, June 18, at a Santaluz home.
According to Promises2Kids, more than half of the youth in foster care do not graduate from high school, and only 3 percent go on to earn a college degree. Guardian Scholars has an 85 percent success rate with more than 200 students having graduated from the program since it launched a decade ago.
“I consider them all very strong individuals,” said Promises2Kids CEO Tonya Torosian. “I can’t imagine myself making it through college with some of the things I went through without my family support. Just looking at the accomplishments of some of the young individuals — it’s truly inspiring to me.”
During the reception, David Odum thanked Torosian and the rest of the Promises2Kids staff for their support since he was a 19-year-old at Cuyamaca College. Odum, now 26, graduated in December 2012 with a bachelor’s in business from San Diego State University. He is an assistant manager at Sherwin-Williams and plans to one day own his own automotive shop.
“They instill a sense of family in how much they care,” Odum said. “It feels like you’re important and that they care for you as a person, not as a number or statistic as the world depicts us.
“My name is David; I’m not 3,752. My name is David, and they instill that sense of importance in us.”
Odum battled depression and wanted to quit school three times, but he said Promises2Kids staff encouraged him to stay in college and pursue his dreams. Torosian even allowed him to change her vehicle’s oil because she knew he wanted to work with cars, Odum added.
“They support you in any way, shape or form that they can, in whatever dream you have,” Odum said.
Since its inception in 1981, Promises2Kids, formerly known as Child Abuse Prevention Foundation, has distributed nearly $25 million for the care and protection of abused and neglected children, and provided services for more than 175,000 foster children in need.
“You may think that you’re not good enough, but they motivate you to do your best and they don’t compare you to anybody else,” Rebelez said. “They’re here for your unique journey, and I think that’s really special about the program.”
To learn more about Promises2Kids, visit