About the South Jersey First Star Collaborative

Academic success and self-sufficiency for foster youth

Mission Statement

To increase the college graduation rate among foster youth by preparing them through a college exposure program and supporting the champion family with resources, education, and life coaching.

Vision Statement

To reform the foster care system by enabling each foster youth to develop a lifetime network of support: (1) by engaging caregivers, mentors, and community members to commit to supporting each student; (2) by assisting biological and foster families in accomplishing their self-identified goals for a more stable home life; and (3) by providing each foster youth with a rigorous academic curriculum to earn a college degree and obtain self-sufficiency.


Foster youth are often denied access to adequate educational and residential programs that meet their unique needs within a supportive environment. The damaging effects of growing up in foster care without those needs met are staggering: high rates of young parenthood, unemployment, homelessness, inadequate health insurance, reliance on public assistance, severe mental illness and incarceration. Foster youth often emerge as young adults from our “system” without possessing the basic skills to survive. Less than 3% of foster youth benefit from a college education, arguably their best ladder out of challenging childhoods to worthwhile adult lives.

Program description

The South Jersey First Star Collaborative operates foster youth academies, 4-year college preparatory programs for high school foster youth that shows them that they belong on a college campus and provides them with the resources and tools to help them get there.Youth live on a college campus each summer throughout high school and return 1-2 days each month throughout the school year. The university becomes a second home that inspires and empowers them. Each Academy keeps youth on track for academic success, equips them with life skills needed for adulthood, trains them to advocate for themselves and others, and provides familial relationships that will last through adulthood.

Strategic Objectives

  1. Improve overall psychosocial functioning of foster youth

  2. Improve the education outcomes of foster youth

  3. Improve self-sufficiency of foster youth


  • 100% of SJFS students received a college scholarship that covers tuition, room & board, and fees
  • 100% of SJFS students have remained in the program
  • 70% improved their grades in at least one core subject
  • 100% accomplished at least one goal set forth on his/her student action plan
  • 81% achieved goal of no discipline infractions or detentions for the academic year
  • 65% of families accomplished a goal to increase financial stability set forth in their family action plan
  • 100% of students successfully earned college credit

“Nothing has been more significant to me than a program by the name of First Star Academy… I have a new confidence that lets me believe I can reach the most seemingly impossible goals with enough work. First Star Academy has been one of the most life-changing experiences I’ve had my entire life. At First Star, we stand up for each other, allowing everyone to keep their dreams within reach, making new ones in the process. They teach us that no matter what our start was we can make a better end for ourselves, and I take this advice to heart. With the help of First Star, I’m going to make something of my life.”
— Luke, Rowan First Star Academy


Wally Kappeler, Program Director


Website: www.firststar.org