The Steve Hicks School of Social Work’s Texas Institute for Child & Family Wellbeing hosted its annual overnight Spark UT Teen Camp in June, in partnership with DFPS PAL Services and Foster Angels of Central Texas.

Thirty teenagers currently in foster care got a glimpse of campus life staying in the Jester dorms, eating at the campus cafes, and enjoying a private swim party at Gregory Gym. They also attended sessions from Teens with Character and a vision board workshop hosted by the Center for Transitional Living.

The teens enjoyed all the activities but were most Spark programexcited to familiarize themselves with the Forty Acres through campus tours and visits with professionals. They also talked with current Longhorns who are participating in Spark and Horns Helping Horns.

“The idea behind this event is to encourage youth to start thinking about their future, and give them a unique opportunity to experience life as a UT student,” said Shannon Mann-Butler, who as Spark’s program coordinator facilitated and planned the conferences. “Spark is all about empowering former foster youth to attend college – any college – and providing resources and support they need to succeed.”

Mann-Butler and Monica Faulkner, director of the Texas Institute for Child & Family Wellbeing, serve as the university’s foster care liaisons. This position was added to the Texas Education Code in 2015 and requires all Texas public institutions of higher education to appoint liaisons who will be available to offer support and guidance to enrolled former foster youth. In addition to coordinating the Spark program, the institute is deeply involved in other community efforts to assist foster youth as they leave the system.

“Moving away for college comes with excitement and some nervousness, but I always knew that my mom and grandmother were a phone call away if I needed something. So many young people don’t have anyone to help them get ready for school or give them financial and motivational support while they are there,” Mann-Butler said.

Spark aims to empower former foster youth by providing necessary support systems to attend The University of Texas at Austin. In partnership with Horns Helping Horns, Spark has created a network of support to assist current and potential college students who have experienced foster care to achieve educational success. You can learn more about this year’s sponsorship opportunities by contacting Shannon Mann-Butler: