Forgive me for the length, but this is a topic near and dear to my heart. I wrote this for our community newsletter (https://www.hcjfs.org/UpdateNew2011/July/Pages/HCJFS_UpdateCover.html), but I thought I might share it with you, too…..
It has been a couple of weeks, but I am still emotionally high from our fantastic Celebration of Dreams event on June 15. We celebrated 37 foster teens graduating from high school and moving on to adult life. This was our chance to recognize the hard work they put in, as well as an opportunity to say thanks to the many people who helped them.
What an event! From the stunning national anthem performed by School of Creative and Performing Arts graduate Bianca Graham, to the inspiring speech by University of Cincinnati President Dr. Gregory Williams, to the look of elation on the faces of the teens as they received their graduation certificates and gifts that will help as they establish life on their own, this event was emotional and thought provoking. I truly thank everyone who participated, donated and had a role in making this happen.
When we think about how difficult life is for our foster children as they move into adulthood, it drives home how important it is for our agency and this community to support them in every way possible. These 37 teens – all from very challenging backgrounds in some way — have already overcome tremendous obstacles to graduate. But I fear this is just the beginning of a very difficult journey coming their way in the next few years.
Statistics show foster children are more likely to end up homeless, in prison, teen parents and the victims of a multitude of other social ills. Transitioning to adulthood is tough for all teens, but to do it without parents or a strong support system is incredibly difficult. I say it a lot: if a foster child is lucky and strong enough to graduate high school and go on to college, where do they go at Thanksgiving and Christmas break when all of their fellow students go home to their families? What if they have no family and friends to go home to?
That is why we work very to help through the transition. We have a fantastic partnership with Lighthouse Youth Services that enables us to run one of the better independent living programs in the country, teaching these teens about life on their own long before they have to live it on their own. They learn how to balance their checkbooks and stretch their paychecks; whom to trust and whom to avoid; the supplies they’ll definitely need and the unnecessary bills they definitely won’t; and much, much more.
We encourage foster families to stay involved as the teens move from their homes. Our agency works with many of the teens for two or three years afterward, providing financial and other supports. Our workers take many calls, answering the “How do I do this?” or “Where do I go for this?” questions as best they can.
We form relationships with community organizations that can help our teens. And, we have created programs, such as the Higher Education Mentoring Initiative, that are especially designed to pair teens up with mentors who can help them graduate high school and move on to a productive adulthood.
Fact is, greater Cincinnati will be a better place to live if these teens are successful in their transition. They are our children and most will spend the rest of their lives in this community. If they can avoid the social problems that befall many foster children, if they can receive an education and find a well-paying job, if they can become productive citizens of this community, we are all better off.
So, I encourage you to support foster children in some way. Our mentoring program is looking for volunteer mentors. We always need foster parents, particularly those who will take in a teenager and stick by them for the rest of their life. The local Foster Child Enrichment Council works to help our kids through donations and other good works. There are many ways you can help. Let’s make sure the Celebration of Dreams event is not the last really positive thing these graduates experience in their life.