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Oof Jorge Cardenas’ earliest childhood memories is loading the back of a car with packages filled with what he later learned was heroin. Another memory is of his front door being kicked in by police, leading him to be placed into foster care. While his twin brothers found themselves incarcerated for violent crimes, Cardenas found refuge in school.

The Guardian Scholars Program at Cal State Fullerton, which became a model for the nation, proved a turning point in Cardenas’ life.

Founded in 1998 in collaboration with Orangewood Foundation, the program has helped more than 250 former foster youth achieve their college degrees and boasts graduation, persistence and retention rates above 90%. In California, it is estimated that just 4% of former foster youth obtain a bachelor’s degree by age 26, as compared to 50% of the same-age, non-foster youth population, according to the John Burton Youth Advocates Foundation.

“Far more than a scholarship, Guardian Scholars provided a valuable support network,” shares Cardenas. “I received advice, mentorship, job opportunities and a community that embraced me.”

After earning both a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 2011 and an MBA in finance in 2019, Cardenas now works as a senior analyst at a national homebuilding company.

“This amazing program has changed, and quite possibly, saved my life,” he says. “The path paved for me at birth only led to gangs, drugs, violence and incarceration. I was lucky to find people and programs that helped pave my path to success.”

To make a gift to the Guardian Scholars Program, contact Katie McGill, executive director of development, at 657-278-8231 or