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Newport Beach couple make foster youth their focus

June 17, 2009

Submitted by Debra Cano Ramos

Robert Zimmer, emeritus professor of marketing at Cal State Fullerton, explained it wasn’t his idea to take in foster children.

“I was scared,” he said

Rather, he credits his wife, Wanda, who insisted.

“Her heart goes out to kids who are neglected, abused or abandoned,” Zimmer said.

For the last 20 years, the Newport Beach couple has provided emergency shelter and respite care for more than 50 infants and children, including a set of triplets and quadruplet boys.

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Zimmer, who retired from the university in 2004, recalled the time the couple had the quads in their home and smiled when reflecting on their synchronized approach to feeding the boys all at once. Their mother was homeless and living in a shelter where Zimmer volunteered. The couple offered to help care for the infants on weekends to give their mother a break.

Then there was the time when a 2-year-old boy came to live with them temporarily. The boy started calling him “daddy” after Zimmer played with him in the yard for the first time.

“That stuff is heartbreaking,” said Zimmer, a father of three who admitted that he quickly warmed to being a foster parent. “They want to be loved, to be secure and to have stability. Every time a child stayed with us, it was like a precious gift from God that came through the door.”

Because of their firsthand experiences with foster children, the couple wanted to do something to help these students once they graduate from college.

What they decided to do is give to Cal State Fullerton’s Guardian Scholars program. The first of its kind in the nation, the program provides financial support and services to former foster youth pursuing a college education.

“It’s an incredible program. It provides students with a safe, stable and nurturing environment. It’s one of the few anchors they have in their life,” Zimmer said. “Despite tremendous obstacles, these former foster youth get through the program and graduate from college.”

As a salute to the eight 2009 graduating Guardian Scholars and to give them a financial boost as they begin the next phase of their lives, the Zimmers awarded each student $1,000 during the group’s annual spring recognition banquet. Criteria on the selection process are being established for future awardees of the Dr. Robert and Wanda Zimmer Academic Achievement & Helping Hands Award.

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