Nearly 40 foster youth will assume starring roles in this year’s Celebration of Dreams event that is designed to recognize their hard work and perseverance in graduating high school despite very challenging situations.
The 17th annual event will feature a movie theme as they prepare to be stars in the film called “Life.” This year’s event will be held at 5:30 p.m. June 9 at the 20th Century Theater in Oakley. Celebration of Dreams, hosted by Hamilton County Job and Family Services, 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 and guardian ad litems.
The celebration includes semi-formal dress, a dinner, speakers, music, certificates of achievement and gifts for the graduates.
Stanley Williams, a graduate of Withrow High School, is an example of the determination it takes. Williams is from a family of eight brothers and sisters, all of whom eventually entered the child welfare system. After 8 years in care and two foster homes, Williams is prepared to go on to college at Urbana University, where he received a scholarship to play football.
He works at Frisch’s 20 hours a week, went to the state wrestling tournament and was named Prom King.
- Crystal Carter, who just had her second child, has been working toward her GED for several years. She plans to start school toward a nursing career.
- Gail Johnson, who was voted Prom Queen at Finneytown High School, has been in foster care for three years because her mother was no longer able to care for her. She thrived at Finneytown, where her wheelchair enabled her to be a cheerleader. She hopes to become a veterinary technician because she loves animals.
Many others have started the transition toward independence and are living on their own already.
“These are just some examples of the children we care for overcoming great challenges that most of us will never understand,” said Moira Weir, director of the Hamilton County Job and Family Services. “Their resiliency is remarkable and a needed attribute as they transition into adulthood – many without a support system. They have already proven they can overcome great odds and they can draw on those experiences as they move ahead in life.
“This is our chance to thank them and those who helped them. For many, this will be the only graduation party they experience and they deserve something very nice to mark this huge occasion.”
This year’s speaker is Diego Fuller, a motivational speaker and rapper from Texas who spent time in the child welfare system as a child. Fuller experienced negative situations in foster care and a group home while growing up, only to be welcomed into an adoptive family that turned his life around.
On Thursday, he will speak to a group of teens whose backgrounds are very similar to his. These 39 have overcome abuse, neglect, separation from their families and friends and many other hurdles to graduate high school. The all have grand plans to be a “star” as they enter their next life phase.
“This is our chance to thank them and those who helped them,” Weir said. “For many, this will be the only graduation party they experience and they deserve something very nice to mark this huge occasion.”
Hamilton County Job and Family Services currently cares for about 900 foster children a day and has nearly 200 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 .