Nearly 60 young people who overcame child abuse and neglect to graduate high school will be recognized Thursday night at the community’s 20th annual Celebration of Dreams event.
Celebration of Dreams, hosted by Hamilton County Job and Family Services, annually honors graduating foster youth still in the custody of the agency and thanks those who helped them get there: caseworkers, mentors, court-appointed special advocates, guardians ad litem, court personnel and others who played key roles in helping the youth overcome obstacles and achieve their academic goals.
This year’s event will be held at 5:30 p.m. June 6 at Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza’s Hall of Mirrors in downtown Cincinnati. The celebration includes semi-formal dress, a dinner, speakers, music, certificates of achievement and gifts for the graduates.
The graduates have overcome separation from family and friends, school changes and many other obstacles to graduate high school. Among them:
- Kennedy Hooper-Boyle, a graduate of Dater High School. She juggled school and two jobs, earning great grades. She worked hard because she wanted to honor her father, a Vietnam veteran, who died of a heart attack just days after getting custody of her. She plans to study nursing at the University of Cincinnati.
- Christian Ruschman, who graduated from Dayton’s Meadowdale High School on May 21 and six days later found himself involved in the deadly tornadoes that hit Ohio on Memorial Day. With his foster home suffering extensive damage and the loss of power, his foster family was forced to move to a nearby hotel.
- DeShawn Belle, a graduate of Princeton High School, where she was a cheerleader and took AP classes in IT. She had planned to study cosmetology because she wants to own her own salon. But her good grades and scholarships now have her considering other options.
- Jaquan McClinton, who, just months ago, lacked enough credits to graduate. With the help of Kids in School Rule! and Lighthouse Youth Services’ Semi-Independent Living Program, he worked hard, made up his work and graduated.
“What a large and great group of students we have for our 20th anniversary edition of Celebration of Dreams,” said Moira Weir, director of the Hamilton County Job and Family Services. “They have really worked hard and overcome tremendous obstacles to earn their diplomas. I am excited to celebrate their academic success and thank those who helped them along the way.
“This is not just a time to say thanks, but also an opportunity to offer words of encouragement and inspiration as they prepare for life on their own, outside the foster care system. They’ll need to once again draw on perseverance and resiliency as they transition to adulthood, many without an extensive support system. We are proud of how far they have come and want to be supportive during the next part of their journey.”
This year’s speaker knows that path. Kick Lee is a former Hamilton County foster child who now works as a music producer. His musical works have been licensed and placed in advertisements with brands such as Disney, Toyota, Samsung, Puma and many others. He is a People’s Liberty 2017 project grant recipient, graduate of Full Sail University and of Elementz Hip Hop Youth Arts center.
Lee founded the Cincinnati Music Accelerator, which builds entrepreneurs through the art of music while simultaneously working to put an end to starving artists. In addition, KL Studios Inc. which specializes in audio recording, audio production, post production and music licensing for TV, film, trailers and commercials.
Hamilton County Job and Family Services currently cares for about 1,000 foster children a day and has more than 400 children available for adoption. Local residents interested in adopting or becoming a foster parent can call 632-6366 or visit www.hckids.org for more information. Those wishing to support foster youth financially can donate to the FAMILY Fund, www.hcjfs.org/familyfund.