Fifty teens in Hamilton County’s foster care system will bid farewell to high school and say hello to their futures Wednesday at this year’s “Celebration of Dreams” event.
The 15th annual event will be held at 6:30 p.m. June 18 at the 20th Century Theater in Oakley. The event, hosted by Hamilton County Job and Family Services, includes dinner and an awards ceremony highlighted by speaker Jimmy Wayne, an accomplished country music artist. Wayne spent a part of his childhood in the child welfare system and part of it homeless before being taken in by a neighborhood couple. He now advocates for children in the child welfare system.
Wayne, whose song “Do You Believe Me Now,” soared to the top of the country charts in 2008, has toured with Brad Paisley and played Madison Square Garden. He’s done much to bring awareness to child abuse and the child welfare system. In 2010, he walked across America to raise awareness of child abuse and young people who age out of the foster care system, often becoming homeless. In 2012, his testimony convinced Tennessee legislators to extend funding for foster children aging out of the system at 18 years until age 21. This fall, his book, Walk to Beautiful, based on his own turbulent childhood, will be released.
He is the youngest recipient of the Salvation Army’s William Booth Award and he also serves as a national CASA spokesperson.
On Wednesday, he will speak to a group of teens whose backgrounds are very similar to his. This group of 50 teens has overcome abuse, neglect, separation from their families and friends and many other hurdles to graduate high school. Some of their stories:
- A young lady who had a baby at 15 and entered foster care 1 ½ hours away from Cincinnati with her newborn daughter. She stayed in school, raised her little girl, earned all As and Bs, ran track and graduated. She also earned nine college credit hours along the way.
- A young man who has been in the foster care system since age 4. He’s experienced several foster homes and one failed adoption. He suffered mental health issues and even thought about suicide. But he formed his own support group, found solace in writing and music and got all As and Bs in his final year of high school. He’s set to attend University of Cincinnati’s Blue Ash College next year.
Wednesday will be spent honoring teens their hard work and determination and thanking those who have helped them along the way — caseworkers, mentors, court-appointed special advocates and guardian ad litems.
The celebration includes semi-formal dress, a dinner, speakers, music, certificates of achievement and gifts for the graduates. For many, this will be the only recognition of their academic success.
“This will be the only graduation party many of them receive and they deserve something really nice to mark this occasion,” said Moira Weir, director of the Hamilton County Job and Family Services. “This is our chance to thank them for sticking with it under, sometimes, tremendously difficult circumstances. Their resiliency is remarkable and will help them as they move forward in life. They have already proven they can overcome great odds and they can draw on those experiences as they face the trials of transitioning into adulthood.”
Hamilton County Job and Family Services currently serves about 850 foster children a day and has nearly 200 children available for adoption. Citizens interested in adopting or becoming a foster parent can call 632-6366 or visit www.hckids.org for more information.