Located in Escondido, California, is San Pasqual Academy, a unique educational facility designed specifically for foster teens. The Academy’s special cause has engaged dozens of supporters, including Rancho Santa Fe resident Dagmar Helgager and her friends. Without their help, there’s a chance that San Pasqual Academy might not be what it is today – a safe and nurturing environment for helping the young on the road to success.
Helgeger is a mother of three and admits she has a soft spot for kids in their teenage years, which she describes as “extra challenging years even under the best of circumstance.”
Since moving to Rancho Santa Fe in 1987, she became friends with Joan Scott and a group of women she “admired and enjoyed” – women who were involved with numerous community activities. One night, Scott attended a dinner with her father, who was friends with the head of New Alternatives Inc., a nonprofit that provides programs for foster and probation youth. New Alternatives Inc. now runs the residential services at San Pasqual Academy.
At the event, Scott and her father discussed concerns about the state of the foster system, which was being voiced by James Milliken, then presiding judge of the Juvenile Court and still a member of the advisory board. When Scott heard about the concept of using a boarding school campus to create an academy program for these children, she realized the organizers needed help to get moving. Scott rounded up a group of friends, now known as Friends of Pasqual Academy, to lend support. Helgeger initially became involved as the group’s treasurer.
“The timing was right,” Helgager said. “My three children were winding down from high school and I was entering the empty nest phase.”
It’s been 16 years, and Scott and most of the original committee remain involved. Scott suggests that they get great community support because, “people like the idea of helping foster kids and they know we will spend their money wisely.”
Today, more than 100 teens live at the academy. They attend high school, learn independent living skills in preparation for their careers, and some even go on to attend 4-year universities. Through the support of Friends of Pasqual Academy, they’ve been able to have proms, as well as yearbooks, and sports and music programs.
“It is important to note that the teens at the Academy are there by choice,” Helgager said. “In many cases they give up living situations under which they could enjoy less supervision and fewer academic demands. We are offering carrots with material things, fun activities and opportunities they may not otherwise have.”