Marla Foster Morgan ’22 is making a difference in the lives of foster youth. While she pursued a Masters’s in Public Administration at Azusa Pacific University, Morgan earned a Richter Scholars Research Fellowship which enabled her to research issues affecting transitional-aged foster youth. “I loved my experience as a Richter Fellow,” she said. “Doing research in the field was something new to me, but my professors, especially Kimberly Garth-James, supported me the entire way, which prepared me to have a greater impact in my current work as a public administrator.” Morgan’s research was recently published in the World Journal of Social Sciences and Humanities.
Morgan explored how trauma affects young adults as they transition out of foster care to independent living; how spiritual mentorship increases their resilience; and what resources are available for stable housing. She found that transitional-age foster youth account for one-third of all homeless youth in the U.S. “I discovered that nearly all the individuals with a spiritual practice had a much better chance of avoiding homelessness and succeeding in life,” she said. “It was phenomenal how big of an effect this had on their resiliency through trials.”
While there are public programs and organizations in place, all of the individuals Morgan interviewed during her research spoke of a lack of resources available to them for addressing the issues of life skills, employment, housing, and trauma as they age out of the system. “My research shows that there needs to be a comprehensive approach,” she said. “We need to provide assistance with housing, resources, and spiritual support.”
As a former foster child herself, spiritual resiliency among foster youth is very important to Morgan. When she was 3 years old, Morgan was taken from her mother’s care by the Department of Children and Family Services because of unsafe living conditions. Although she was placed in the care of her aunt, Morgan still regularly visited her mother, which led to further abuse. “As a child, I lost my voice to speak up for myself. I couldn’t share what I went through,” she said. “So when I turned 18 and graduated from high school, I moved out of my home immediately. I moved from one house to another, from this couch to that couch.” After months of struggle, Morgan secured a safe living space with help from an organization.
Morgan began attending Cal State Dominguez Hills, but balancing school and a full-time job and taking the bus from Long Beach to Carson every day proved to be extremely challenging, so she ended up dropping out. “That was such a hard season of my life,” she said. “My little sister noticed how unhappy I was. She told me I had always wanted to go to school and that I should go back. I prayed about it and God opened the door for me.” More than a year after dropping out, Morgan returned to college and persevered, earning a Bachelor’s in Public Administration.
After graduation, Morgan finally achieved a sense of stability, allowing her to focus on her work at a company in the private sector. “I did really well at my job, but I felt a calling to do something more,” she said. “I wanted to use my skill set to make an impact in the world based on my biblical values. I chose to pursue my master’s degree at APU so I could learn how to be a public administrator in a godly manner and be best equipped to help transitional age foster youth.” Morgan currently works at Hannah’s Homes, a nonprofit that seeks to provide housing, childcare, spiritual, life, and parenting skills to foster and at-risk youth. She also serves as the educational director on the board of another organization that helps foster youth, provides consultations, and speaks to organizations and foundations about how to better serve transition-age foster and at-risk youth.
Morgan’s faith is paramount to the way she lives her life and interacts with others. At a young age, she received a children’s Bible, which she read cover-to-cover. “That’s when the word of God took root in my heart. It was very powerful,” she said. As an adult, Morgan got very involved at her church—Love and Unity Christian Fellowship in Compton. She would spend many hours every week there, even going during breaks from school just to pray with the elders. “They became a family for me. There were so many people in that ministry who were fully committed to God, which helped me grow in my faith. It transformed my life for the better,” she said. Morgan experienced more growth at APU with support from the Christ-centered community. Her faith played a huge role in her research and continues to do so in her work today. “My faith is my guiding compass, the basis for everything I do. I hope and pray that my work will truly make a difference in the lives of foster youth. It’s only possible because of God.”