Student of the Month: Meredith Slenker
Barely old enough to walk, Meredith Slenker’s journey through foster care started when she was just a year old. She spent the next 17 years moving from group home to foster home and back again.
“It’s really complex because you’re kind of just brought to somebody’s doorstep, and you don’t know who’s behind that door,” she said. “The caseworker is like, ‘Okay, you live here now,’ and you have to completely change your life and kind of fit in with whoever.”
When she aged out of the foster care system at 18, Meredith had never had a job. She didn’t know how to drive. She opened her first bank account with a total of $4.97.
Like most high school graduates, she had every intention of going to college. However, less than 3% of youth who grew up in foster care go on to earn their college degree. Without someone to help her navigate the world of higher education, getting enrolled felt like an insurmountable challenge.
“I applied and was accepted to a few colleges out of high school, but I had little guidance and was usually left feeling confused and overwhelmed,” she said.
Meredith also felt the limitations of her life experience and wasn’t sure what her calling was. She started second-guessing what she wanted to study and why she was going to college at all. The nerves and fear set in. On her own, with nobody to support her, she made the decision to stay put and get a job.
Then at 19, Meredith had her first child, Addison. Less than two years later she welcomed her second, Abel. With some life experience under her belt and two babies to care for, Meredith had the clarity and motivation she needed.
“I don’t want them to go through half the things that I had to go through. I want them to have stability. I want them to have a good life. I want them to not have to worry about who they’re living with or if their entire life is going to change next week,” she said. “I want them to be able to have more opportunities than I got in foster care.”
Looking to expand her career opportunities and set an example for her children, Meredith signed up for her employer’s education benefits through Guild. She completed a college prep program, and she’s now earning her degree in business — all for only $1 a day. She doesn’t just have financial support through her education benefits; she also has support from coaches and advisors who help her through every step of her schooling.
“That’s my favorite part about the whole program — just having someone to help me,” she said. “I feel like I probably could have waited until my life was a little bit less hectic, but I almost like the chaos. It kind of drives me.”
Now, a year into the program, Meredith is connecting what she’s learning in school to the workplace. As the unofficial fastest pizza maker at her store, she sets an example for her coworkers and loves helping them learn and improve.
“When I see a coworker who is struggling with something, I’m good at giving advice,” she said. “I’ve been looking at the psychology of businesses and how to get workers to work more effectively and to have better working environments so they can be doing their best.”
While it’s clear that her education will unlock opportunity for her future, it’s also closing the door on naysayers from Meredith’s past.
“I had a lot of people in the foster care system think, ‘Oh, you’re in foster care. That just means you’re a troubled kid. That means you’re not really going to go to college. You’re not going to get a good job. You’re just going to be on the streets and do whatever,’” she said. “I feel like a lot of people have that mindset about foster kids, and it’s completely not true. Most of us, if not all of us, are a lot smarter than we get credit for.”
Like this post? Follow us on Facebook and Instagram for more inspiring stories and helpful tips. If you’re interested in sharing your own story, you can tell us about your education journey right here.