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Foster youth recognized for rising up, moving on

At today’s luncheon at PCSAO’s annual conference, young people who emancipated from foster care were celebrated for “Rising Up and Moving On.” Their stories of overcoming adversity are always a highlight of the conference.

Allissa, 18, Stark County

Allissa

On hearing Allissa’s accomplishments, you might assume that she is a mid-career professional rather than an 18-year-old former foster youth. She has developed activities for an after-school program and secured a grant to promote health awareness for teens. She has helped organize and implement the summer Independent Living series in Stark County and lobbied Congress on Capitol Hill. She has even developed and is working to implement a plan to end homelessness for emancipated foster youth in Ohio based on a similar program for homeless veterans. Moreover, Allissa is collaborating with physicians on Ohio Minds Matter, a program to enable foster youth to improve communications with doctors and therapists around treatment plans and prescriptions. The staff at Adolescent Behavioral Health were so impressed by Allissa that they created a peer mentor position just for her, and now she has been promoted to a new position in the organization. Later this year, she will attend an international event in Jamaica.

Notwithstanding this impressive résumé, Allissa is an 18-year-old college student who spent time in the custody of child protection, endured multiple placements, got behind in school, and this year emancipated from care. Even without the family support on which so many of us rely, Allissa managed to catch up on her credits and excel in high school. She won first place in a statewide marketing competition, earning her the opportunity to compete at the national level in Florida. She played drum for the concert and marching bands, sang in the choir, volunteered after school, and served as head youth leader at her foster mother’s church. She is even a blue belt in mixed martial arts. In addition to her participation in the Stark County Youth Advisory Board, she has twice been elected president of the OHIO Youth Advisory Board. She intends to earn a degree at Stark State College in social work, minoring in neurology, psychology, and metaphysics.

A skilled public speaker willing to tell her story, Allissa was recently addressing an audience of her peers, professionals, judges, and other community stakeholders. The audience was captivated by her strength, resilience, and confidence. “It doesn’t matter what happens to you,” Allissa likes to say. “It only matters how you react to it that makes you who you are.”

Dakota, 18, Defiance County

Dakota

Dakota entered foster care at the age of 10 with what his caseworker describes as an all-too-understandable chip on his shoulder. Reluctant to trust anyone, he moved from foster care to juvenile detention and then to a group home, separated from his older sisters. He felt the stigma of being in the foster care system and rebelled against its restrictions.

But something changed. At the group home, Dakota became a leader, mentoring other children, making up school credits, and returning to the school from which he had been expelled. Completing the group home program early, Dakota returned to his original foster home and was reunited with his sisters. At school, he joined the football, wrestling, and track and field teams, lettering in each. He took first place in 4-H and became the first male in his family to graduate high school. Dakota volunteered for the summer food program, works part-time, and can fix almost anything with his hands. Today, this 18-year-old is enrolling in the United States Marine Corps.

Dayree, 18, Stark County

Dayree

Dayree will be the first to tell you that she was in a very different place a year ago, when she and her infant daughter were placed in a foster home. Angry and unruly, constantly in conflict with her mother, Dayree was on probation and in an unhealthy relationship. She was skipping school, smoking and drinking, placing herself and her child in danger. Repeated violations of her probation and expulsion from school soon followed as she rebelled against the rules of her new home.

Only when told that her daughter Sharee might be removed from her care did Dayree begin taking responsibility for getting her life back on track. She attended counseling, ended the abusive relationship, made new friends, and completed a drug-treatment program. Now clean and healthy, Dayree continues to improve her parenting skills and her relationship with her own mother. She has become employed and secured housing.

Though a junior in high school at the time, Dayree had earned only enough credits to qualify as a freshman. So she enrolled in an alternative school, hoping to graduate on time. By studying hard, she completed all of her classes and walked with her classmates on graduation day in May. Dayree even addressed her fellow graduates, sharing her story and encouraging her peers to set and achieve goals in order to succeed in life. She thanked her mother and Stark County JFS for standing firm so that she could learn to move forward.

Dayree volunteered in the kitchen of a homeless shelter. Interacting with people who are struggling and encouraging them to eat a healthy meal honed her work ethic and helped her gain employment in a restaurant. She plans to attend Stark State College and major in culinary arts, hoping one day to be a chef in her own restaurant. A year ago, Dayree was a teen mom with limited parenting skills and a rebellious attitude. Today, she is well on her way to providing a safe and happy life for her daughter and for herself.

Trenton, 19, Hamilton County

Trenton

Trenton is a 19-year-old who has a way with words. His personal story of overcoming adversity, written by him and delivered to a committee at the Anthony Munoz Foundation, earned him a $20,000-a-year college scholarship – on the spot!

He and his four brothers and sisters came into care when Trent was only 9 years old. He struggled, as any child would, living in five different homes, often separated from his siblings. He arrived at his sixth and final foster home in rural Lynchburg as a seventh grader. Since then, Trent has been on the honor roll, played in the band, and excelled in Future Farmers of America. Trent raises chickens, creates art, and makes friends easily. His classmates voted him “Most Artistic” and nominated him for the Hall of Fame Award, the highest honor given to a graduating senior.

Trent appreciates the support he has received from his foster parents, his caseworker, and the entire staff at his school. It’s his agriculture education teacher who has inspired him most. Trent plans to attend Wilmington College to become an ag teacher himself. Now that he knows what it means to be part of a support system, Trent wants to “pay it forward” and become a support person and mentor for others. “What they’ve done for me, I want to do for the kids I teach,” Trent says.