Lots of joy and love were on display on Tuesday, Sept. 19, as the Toro Guardian Scholars (TGS) program welcomed the campus community to the official grand opening of their new space in Welch Hall.
TGS is a comprehensive program dedicated to supporting Toro students who have transitioned from the foster care system or homelessness. They help students with everything from obtaining basic needs and emergency housing to financial literacy workshops and academic support.
Staff, students, and supporters gathered outside the new space for the grand opening, which included short speeches from several officials, followed by an official ribbon cutting by the program’s first director, Joshua Williams, and TGS student Ernesto Yanes-Arnold.
Current TGS director Ludivina Vasquez Snow said that the grand opening was nine years in the making. The program initially started as a project out of Williams’ office, and has bounced around campus for several years.
“When we inherited this office, it was not a space for students,” said Vasquez Snow. “It had grey walls, cubicle installations, and no art. Thanks to funding provided by the state and Angels Nest, we have been able to paint, add decals that show Toro pride and student accomplishments, install artwork and decor, create a small library—even get a pet fish!”
The new TGS space is set up as a safe space for Toro students, she continued. “We have staff that is ready to support them, a back space that has a television for them to watch or do group work, a library where they can check out books, computers where they can do homework and print for free, and last but not least, both a food and hygiene pantry. The TGS space also has a psychological counselor dedicated to providing services for Toro Guardian Scholars.”
Williams, who left CSUDH before the program finished moving into their new space, returned to campus for the event and was moved by what he saw. “It’s a big deal for me, being the former director here and growing this program, I was always advocating for a space that was conducive to our students’ needs. To come back and see where it is today is a full-circle moment and a dream come true for me.”
Yanes-Arnold, a senior sociology major and TGS student who plans to go on to graduate school, joined Williams for the ribbon cutting. He was equally impressed by the new space. “Honestly, I’ve never seen the TGS space like this,” he said. “It’s a new beginning for future generations of foster youth. I’m really grateful that our new, incoming students will get to more easily see and find what the program has to offer.”
Funding for the renovation was provided by the state, and supplemented by Angels Nest, a non-profit devoted to helping former foster youth in higher education, which has partnered with TGS for several years. The group provided TGS with a refrigerator and food pantry, as well as games and décor.
“As an advocate for people who have been in the foster care system, I am aware of the challenges they face and the lack of support that they receive,” said the Executive Director of Angels Nest, Arzo Yusuf. “Only 4 percent of them get to college. Without support, guidance, and people that care and want them to succeed, they struggle. We really wanted to contribute, to create a space where students came come and get a respite between classes and truly feel cared for.”
Senior child development major and TGS student Bre’Aujanae Moore believes that the new space will make an impact on current and future students.
“I came into CSUDH as a homeless youth,” she said, “so this means a lot. It’s now more welcoming and appealing to students. The staff has always made sure that the space has been a home—that atmosphere was already here, but this new space really reflects that. It says that this program has been created to serve us students, and we’re here to be your family away from your family, or the family you always wanted but never had. We now have a home, and I really appreciate that.”
Jaylan Hicks joined the program as a student assistant while attending CSUDH, and now serves as the program’s student support specialist. Having seen TGS grow and evolve over time, he is excited that the new space is up and running.
“This is a sentimental change for me,” he said. “To see the growth since the inception of the program, the diligence of all the folks who have come in to do the work, to advocate for the students, has been amazing. It’s definitely great for us to have this space for students to call home, because for a long time we didn’t really have one, but ‘home’ is especially important for our population.”
“It’s been amazing to see everything come to fruition,” he added. “In the end, it’s all about belonging and student success. We finally have a space to call our own, which says a lot about this institution because home is symbolic of love. I feel like all the love that’s been poured into this program has created the opportunity for us to build this special space.”
Toro Guardian Scholars is located in Welch Hall, Room 363. The office is open Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (310) 243-2052.